Unintelligent By Design: Louisiana School District Considers Teaching Creationism

July 29th, 2010
By Rob Boston
Evolution & Creationism, Religion in Public Schools

Members of the Livingston Parish School Board in Louisiana may be on the verge of making a huge mistake – one that could cost their community a lot of money.

During a recent meeting, several board members went off on a tangent about teaching creationism. During this public session, they openly discussed their desire to bring religion into the classroom. It was not a wise move.

The trouble began when Jan Benton, director of curriculum for the parish schools, noted that a new law in Louisiana allows schools to present “critical thinking and creationism” in science classes.

Board Member David Tate got excited and said, “We let them teach evolution to our children, but I think all of us sitting up here on this school board believe in creationism. Why can’t we get someone with religious beliefs to teach creationism?”

Clint Mitchell quickly chimed in, “I agree…. You don’t have to be afraid to point out some of the fallacies with the theory of evolution. Teachers should have the freedom to look at creationism and find a way to get it into the classroom.”

Then, Keith Martin, the board’s president, piled on, asserting that it’s time to take a look at the issue.

“We shouldn’t just jump into this thing, but we do need to look at it,” Martin said. “The American Civil Liberties Union and even some of our principals would not be pleased with us, but we shouldn’t worry about the ACLU. It’s more important that we do the correct thing for the children we educate.”

Remarkable.

Sure, some of the principals wouldn’t like it – but why should the board listen to them? They’re only professional educators. What do they know?

The Livingston board is laboring under several delusions. Let’s consider some of them.

For starters, the 2008 law allows teachers to use “supplemental materials” when discussing evolution. It does not permit the teaching of creationism. The Supreme Court and lower federal courts have repeatedly struck down creationism in public science classes. The Livingston board ought to know this. After all, it was a Louisiana law that was declared unconstitutional in the famous Edwards v. Aguillard creationism case from 1987.

Secondly, the misnamed Louisiana Science Education Act is of dubious constitutionality. Many people believe it was designed to slip creationism (or at least religiously grounded criticism of evolution) into Louisiana public schools. The law is deeply misguided, and the main reason it hasn’t been challenged yet is that no school board has been reckless enough to implement it.

Trust me, Livingston Parish, you do not want to be the test case.

Finally, when the law was passed, Americans United vowed to monitor its implementation. Any school that stepped over the line, we said, would hear from us.

AU Trustee Barbara Forrest, coauthor of the 2004 book Creationism’s Trojan Horse, is already on the case. Barbara is not to be trifled with. She knows this issue as well as anyone in the country, and she served as an expert witness in the 2005 case striking down “intelligent design” – the current variant of creationism — in Dover, Pa.

Livingston school board members might want to read U.S. District Judge John E. Jones’ opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. They might find it enlightening. They also might want to read up on the aftermath: The school board ended up paying more than $1 million in attorneys’ fees.

Barbara has pointed out repeatedly that the 2008 Louisiana law has religious intent. When school board members in Livingston say things like, “Why can’t we get someone with religious beliefs to teach creationism?” they are only making our job easier.

Here’s some advice for Livingston Parish school officials: You don’t want to go to court over this because you will lose. Drop the creationism crusade and stick to teaching standard biology – including evolution — in your schools. If you need some guidance as to why teaching evolution is a good idea, these folks probably have some thoughts.

P.S. As many of you know, Americans United’s blog has been down for several days due to technical issues. I’m pleased to report that those have been resolved. We will have new content every week day, so be sure to visit.

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