Louisiana School District Flirts with Creationism

August 3, 2010

They’re at it again.  Nearly a quarter century after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana scheme to introduce creationism into public school science classrooms, a Louisiana school district is considering whether to flout the constitution yet again by inserting religion-infused junk science in its curriculum.

News reports of a recent Livingston Parish School Board meeting show the board exploring the possibility of injecting creationism in Livingston Parish public school science classes.

During the board’s ill-informed discussion of its pupil progression plan for the 2010-11 school year, Jan Benton, director of curriculum, mistakenly argued that the Science Education Act enacted last year by the Louisiana Legislature allow schools to teach so-called “critical thinking and creationism” in science classes.  David Tate, another board member, responded:

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?

Not to be outdone, fellow board member Clint Mitchell responded,

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.

Board President Keith Martin suggested that now might be the time to re-examine the issue, stating that “Maybe it’s time that we look at this.” Martin suggested — and his fellow board members appeared to agree — that the board should appoint a committee to study the possibility of introducing creationism into the classroom.  Martin concluded with an oratorical flourish against defenders of the constitution and religious liberty:

We shouldn’t just jump into this thing, but we do need to look at it. 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.

The Livingston Parish School Board couldn’t have it more wrong, of course.  The courts have consistently held that the teaching of creationism in public school science classrooms violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause — not merely because creation “science” is junk science, but because introducing this junk science into science classrooms impermissibly uses government resources to advance a religious agenda. The Supreme Court weighed in on the question in the 1987 case of Edwards v. Aguillard , ruling seven to two (with Justice Antonin Scalia and the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist in predictable dissent) that introducing creationism into the classroom has the impermissible purpose and effect of advancing religious dogma.  In 2005, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones ruled that even the introduction of watered-down creationism in the guise of so-called “intelligent design” theory into public classrooms violates the constitution.  If Louisiana’s new Science Education Act were to provide for the teaching of creationism in public school rooms, it would be unconstitutional.

Worse than that, the school board was mistaken even in arguing that Louisiana’s new law allows for the teaching of creationism in public schools.  The law merely states that teachers may use “supplemental materials” when teaching about evolution.

We can only wait to see whether the Livingston Parish School Board rushes the school district headlong into an expensive and unwinnable lawsuit.  Given how foolishly the board’s members behaved at the recent board meeting, they might be just imprudent enough to do so.


* * * UPDATE * * *

The Baton Rouge Advocate now reports that “The Livingston Parish School Board won’t try to include the teaching of creationism in this year’s curriculum, but has asked the School Board staff to look at the issue for possible future action.” The exploratory committee the board formed for the purpose of examining the issue is not expected to report its findings in time for action during the 2010-2011 school year. Board president Keith Martin explained, “We have decided not to try to hurry up and rush something in for this year.”