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Repeal effort revived in Louisiana

Senate Bill 374 (PDF), prefiled in the Louisiana Senate on March 1, 2012, and provisionally referred to the Senate Committee on Education, would, if enacted, repeal Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1, which implemented the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, passed and enacted in 2008. The bill was introduced by Karen Carter Peterson (D-District 5), who sponsored the identical SB 70 in 2011. That bill died in committee when the Louisiana state legislature adjourned in 2011, but Zach Kopplin, the student who spearheaded the effort, then vowed, "we'll come back with an even stronger repeal next session."

True to his word, Kopplin (who was recently named as a recipient of NCSE's Friend of Darwin Award for 2012) announced in a March 6, 2012, press release that the repeal effort was back — now with "the unprecedented support of 75 Nobel laureate scientists — nearly 40% of all living Nobel laureate scientists in physics, chemistry, or physiology or medicine." Peterson commented, "This year the Governor has asked the Louisiana legislature to focus on education ... If this Legislative session is truly about improving Louisiana’s education system, then the first place to start is to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act."

The law targeted for repeal calls on state and local education administrators to help to promote "critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning"; these four topics were described as controversial in the original draft of the legislation. It also allows teachers to use "supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner" if so permitted by their local school boards.

Since 2008, antievolutionists have not only sought to undermine the law's provision allowing challenges to unsuitable supplementary materials but have also reportedly invoked the law to support proposals to teach creationism in at least two parishes — Livingston and Tangipahoa — and to attack the treatment of evolution in biology textbooks proposed for adoption by the state. Meanwhile, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology urged Louisianans to repeal the law in 2008, and the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology decided to hold its conferences elsewhere while the law remains on the books.

Endorsing the repeal effort in 2011 were the National Association of Biology Teachers, the Louisiana Association of Biology Educators, the Louisiana Coalition for Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the American Society for Cell Biology, the Society for the Study of Evolution together with the Society of Systematic Biologists and the American Society of Naturalists, the Clergy Letter Project, the New Orleans City Council, and the Baton Rouge Advocate.