Yesterday the Louisiana State Senate Education Committee voted 5-1 to kill SB 70, a bill intended to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA). The LSEA was originally adopted in 2008 by an overwhelming bipartisan majority (Louisiana House: 93-4; Senate: 36-0). It is the first Academic Freedom law passed in the nation to protect public school teachers who teach students to think critically (read: scientifically) on controversial scientific topics like Darwinian evolution.
Before voting down SB 70 the Committee heard testimony from both sides. Predictably, opponents of the LSEA who wanted it repealed repeatedly talked about “creationism,” “creationism,” and also “creationism.” LSEA-critics didn’t quote from the law, and completely ignored the fact that the law prohibits any advancement of religion in the science classroom.
Those who supported the LSEA and opposed its appeal included Louisiana College biology professor Wade Warren, who explained why we should allow students to learn about both the evidence for and against evolution:
We should teach students about the standard pro-Darwin evolutionary viewpoint. But we should also expose them to credible scientific views that dissent from that position. I am just one of many such scientists who hold such a skeptical viewpoint. But isn’t that what science is about: encouraging students to think skeptically, and not dogmatically? The LSEA will help our state produce young scientists who understand science, and know how to think critically and use innovation to solve the problems currently facing our society. But without the Science Education Act, many teachers will be afraid to cover controversial scientific topics in an objective manner, out of fear of the same kind of attacks on academic freedom I have experienced in my own career.
Dr. Warren also presented to the committee a letter signed by 15 Ph.D. scientists which explained that even though a group of vocal Nobel Laureates had opposed the LSEA and supported its repeal, they were refusing to acknowledge the intent of the LSEA:
Vocal activists who oppose the LSEA are seeking to confuse the issue, since the LSEA is not about creationism. In fact, when a group of Nobel Laureates recently signed a letter calling for the repeal of the LSEA, it is noteworthy that their letter refused to quote from the law itself and instead harped upon the distraction of “creationism.” The truth is that LSEA does not permit teaching for or against any religious viewpoint.
If science educators follow the approach of LSEA-critics, science education will become science indoctrination. The few scientists who are pressuring you to repeal the LSEA do not understand the law, or are purposefully misconstruing the law, and do not speak for many scientists who support open and objective inquiry. True objectivity in science education demands that the LSEA remain in force. Louisiana should be proud that it is leading the way in science education.
Louisiana isn’t just leading the way in science education, but also in business. Some LSEA-opponents claimed the law would somehow harm the business climate in Louisiana by causing science and industry to leave the state. Against this ominous prophecy, Stafford Olivia Palmieri from Governor Jindal’s office spoke in support of the LSEA, noting that Louisiana’s economy has done much better than most of the United States in recent years since the LSEA was passed.
To illustrate her point, Palmieri read into the record praise for Louisiana’s business climate over the past couple years, as Louisiana recently received an award from Business Facilities magazine, as reported by BusinessReport.com:
“The diversity and growth potential of Louisiana’s top projects in both high-tech and traditional manufacturing, as well as healthy total investments, overall job creation and innovative incentives, made Louisiana a clear winner of our annual ‘State of the Year’ Award,” says Business Facilities Editor-in-chief Jack Rogers.
Prominent Louisiana legal voices also came to defend the LSEA. Judge Darrell White (Retired) read to the Committee a letter from Southern University law professor Michelle Ghetti explaining that the LSEA is completely constitutional. Professor Ghetti advised that the language and intent behind the LSEA are both above reproach, and thus should not be repealed on constitutional grounds. Another pro-LSEA speaker explained that there have been no lawsuits over the law.
There’s a good reason why there have been no lawsuits over the LSEA: despite their public rhetoric and talking points, even Louisiana Darwin lobbyists know in their heart of hearts that the plain language of the law does not protect the teaching of religion. Thus, it is noteworthy that the critics of the LSEA could not bring themselves to quote from the actual law itself during the hearing.
Perhaps you can read better than the Nobel Prize winners who opposed the LSEA: In the language from the law below, can you spot where the LSEA allows religion to march into the science classroom? From the law itself:
This Section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.
Indeed, when pressed, not a single opponent of the LSEA could point to any instance of religion coming into the classroom under the LSEA.
Some LSEA-critics didn’t even seem to understand the law. When one LSEA-opponent was asked if she was aware that the law mandates that “A teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system,” she replied that she was unaware the law made such a requirement.
Finally, the other talking point that LSEA critics repeated was the claim that “There is no controversy and nothing credible against evolution to present in science class.” This claim is unfortunate not just because it’s untrue, but because it stifles the academic freedom of teachers who want to expose students to multiple credible scientific viewpoints on evolution.
Ironically, when LSEA-critics denigrate those scientists and educators who doubt Darwinian evolution, they show exactly why academic freedom legislation is needed to protect the free speech rights of those who would express dissenting viewpoints. As Professor Wade Warren testified:
There are many other credible Ph.D. scientists, including biologists, who share my views. In fact, multiple professional biologists have testified in favor of this law in the past. Yet Darwinian biologists refuse to admit this fact. Let me give you a short anecdote from the Louisiana House Education Committee hearing on the LSEA.
After watching their pro-LSEA scientific peers testify about scientific problems with evolution, one anti-LSEA LSU biologist still had the audacity to testify before the House Education Committee that “there is no controversy among professional biologists about fact of evolution”. When one representative asked him, “Did you hear the testimony of the other professors we had here that were speaking before this committee?,” he fumbled in response. So please let me state plainly to you what is going on here: Some Darwinian activists have an agenda to impose censorship on students by bluffing that there is no scientific controversy over neo-Darwinian evolution.
LSEA critics are living proof why we need the law, because they refuse to admit that there is a scientific debate one evolution, and instead denigrate and deny the existence of those who are scientific skeptics of neo-Darwinism.
Thankfully, Louisiana legislators saw through the talking points of the Louisiana Darwin lobby and realized that the LSEA is necessary to protect sound science education.