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Fact-Check: Louisiana’s Science Education Act Does NOT Authorize Teaching Creationism

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In an article at Vox, a website the offers to “explain the news” for readers, Sean Illing shares an interview with science educator Amanda Glaze. Unfortunately, in “Teaching evolution in the South: an educator on the ‘war for science literacy,'” he repeats the mistake of many media sources, mischaracterizing an academic freedom law as authorizing instructors to teach creationism.

I lived and taught in Louisiana until recently, and there you had a well-educated Republican governor [Bobby Jindal] who was backing a law that allowed creationism to be taught in public school science classes. And he had the overwhelming support of the state legislature.

This is incorrect. Permit me to explain to Sean Illing. The law that he refers to, the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), does not authorize the teaching of creationism. Rather, it permits teachers to present the scientific evidence both for and against neo-Darwinism. (Illing also contests whether there is indeed a scientific debate — more about the evidence and controversy here.)

The text of the law includes the following statement:

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.

As I mentioned in a previous article on the LSEA:

Let’s be clear: If a teacher presents creationism and is sued, the LSEA will offer that teacher no protection…. In any event, teaching creationism in public schools is unconstitutional according to the Supreme Court (Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578).

Louisiana’s academic freedom law serves the purpose of giving teachers who would like to present both sides of the scientific controversy over evolution the freedom to do so without fear of retaliation. But media accounts often fail to portray this clearly.

Photo credit: Evan-Amos (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.