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Repeal effort fails again in Louisiana

Louisiana's Senate Bill 26 (PDF) was tabled on a 3-2 vote in the Senate Committee on Education on May 1, 2013, which effectively kills the bill in committee, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune (May 1, 2013). The bill, introduced by Karen Carter Peterson (D-District 5), would, if enacted, repeal Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1, which implemented the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, passed and enacted in 2008, and thus opened the door for scientifically unwarranted criticisms of evolution and climate science to be taught in the state's public schools. It was the third bill of its kind, following SB 374 in 2012 and SB 70 in 2011.

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. Recently, speaking to NBC News on April 12, 2013, Louisiana's governor Bobby Jindal (R), who signed the bill into law over the protests of the state's scientific and educational communities, acknowledged that the LSEA allows teachers to "teach our kids about creationism."

Among those testifying in favor of the repeal was Zack Kopplin, who was quoted by the Associated Press (May 1, 2013) as describing the LSEA as "about going back into the Dark Ages, not moving forward into the 21st [c]entury," adding, "Louisiana students deserve to be taught sound science and that means the theory of evolution, not creationism." Tammy Wood, a Zachary-area science teacher, highlighted the failure of the LSEA to provide "the necessary restrictions, standards, and guidelines" to avoid its misuse to promote "mere nonsense masquerading as a viable alternative." The complete video of the hearing is available on-line.

In advance of the hearing, Kopplin published two op-eds arguing for the repeal. Writing in the Guardian (May 1, 2013), he emphasized (in the words of the headline) "the cost of teaching creationism — in reputation and dollars" to the state: "Any state that passes a creationism law will harm their students and drive scientists — and business — away." Writing at MSNBC (May 1, 2013), he addressed Governor Jindal directly: "it's time to take your own advice and actually lead the Republican Party toward being a smarter party by endorsing evidence-based science, and the repeal of Louisiana’s creationism law."

Among those endorsing the repeal effort are seventy-eight Nobel laureate scientists, 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.