Behind the Curtain: The Louisiana Science Education Act (Part One)

Background:

On February 25th, I wrote about Zack Kopplin (photo credit: The Gambit), a 17-year-old senior at Baton Rouge Magnet High School, who is leading the charge to repeal the Orwellian-named Louisiana Science Education Act (or the LSEA).

In the most basic terms, the LSEA is simply a back-door attempt at allowing public schools the opportunity to supplement or replace science-based biology education, particularly as it relates to evolutionary biology, with religiously-based creationism stories. As compelling and fascinating as creationism stories or the notion of intelligent design may be to millions of Americans of faith, they cannot and should not be considered substitutions or alternative “theories” for actual science.

More importantly, evolutionary biology is one of the backbones of modern medicine and scientific inquiry. In a state that already suffers from a struggling public education system, now, more than ever, it is critical Louisiana dedicates herself to ensuring the integrity of our educational standards, and in a state so reliant on the economic engine of health care, it is particularly important our young students receive a rigorous and thorough education in science, an education that values, recognizes, and earnestly respects the distinct differences between articles of religious faith and theories and laws that are testable and verifiable through the employment of the scientific method. Attempts to circumvent science education in order to provide a venue for advancing religious beliefs, particularly when undertaken in public schools, likely violate the Establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Louisiana Family Forum:

At the center of this controversy is the Louisiana Family Forum, originally founded by the radical provocateur and former Louisiana State Representative Tony Perkins, whose Family Research Council was recently condemned as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Perkins, the Oklahoma-born graduate of the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, is bizarrely obsessed with gay men and gay pedophilia. Quoting from the SPLC:

Headed since 2003 by former Louisiana State Rep. Tony Perkins, the FRC has been a font of anti-gay propaganda throughout its history. It relieson the work of Robert Knight, who also worked at Concerned Women for America but now is at Coral Ridge Ministries (see above for both), along with that of FRC senior research fellows Tim Dailey (hired in 1999) and Peter Sprigg (2001). Both Dailey and Sprigg have pushed false accusations linking gay men to pedophilia: Sprigg has written that most men who engage in same-sex child molestation “identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual,” and Dailey and Sprigg devoted an entire chapter of their 2004 book Getting It Straight to similar material. The men claimed that “homosexuals are overrepresented in child sex offenses” and similarly asserted that “homosexuals are attracted in inordinate numbers to boys.”

That’s the least of it. In a 1999 publication (Homosexual Activists Work to Normalize Sex With Boys) that has since disappeared from its website, the FRC claimed that “one of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the ‘prophets’ of a new sexual order,” according to unrefuted research by AMERICAblog. The same publication argued that “homosexual activists publicly disassociate themselves from pedophiles as part of a public relations strategy.” FRC offered no evidence for these remarkable assertions, and has never publicly retracted the allegations. (The American Psychological Association, among others, has concluded that “homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men are.”)

….

Perkins has his own unusual history. In 1996, while managing the U.S. Senate campaign of Republican State Rep. Louis “Woody” Jenkins of Louisiana, Perkins paid $82,500 to use the mailing list of former Klan chieftain David Duke. The campaign was fined $3,000 (reduced from $82,500) after Perkins and Jenkins filed false disclosure forms in a bid to hide the link to Duke. Five years later, on May 17, 2001, Perkins gave a speech to the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a white supremacist group that has described black people as a “retrograde species of humanity.” Perkins claimed not to know the group’s ideology at the time, but it had been widely publicized in Louisiana and the nation. In 1999, after Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was embroiled in a national scandal over his ties to the group, GOP chairman Jim Nicholson urged Republicans to quit the CCC because of its “racist views.” That statement and the nationally publicized Lott controversy came two years before Perkins’ 2001 speech.

Put simply, Tony Perkins, the founder of the Louisiana Family Forum, is nothing more than a zealous bigot who promotes hateful lies in an attempt to capture headlines and advance his own radical agenda. He bought the mailing list of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, attempted to cover it up by filing false disclosure forms, and as a result, the campaign he was managing was fined for violations. Five years later, he spoke before a well-known white supremacist group, feigning ignorance afterward, even though that very group had been at the center of national attention only two years prior.

And again, this man, Tony Perkins, is the founder and the godfather of the Louisiana Family Forum.

Today, the Louisiana Family Forum is led by a man named Gene Mills. In 2007, a year before the Louisiana Science Education Act was passed into law, Senator David Vitter drew national controversy when he attempted to earmark $100,000 for the Louisiana Family Forum to develop its own “science education curriculum.” From The Times-Picayune:

The group’s tax-exempt status prohibits the Louisiana Family Forum from political activity, but Vitter has close ties to the group. Dan Richey, the group’s grass-roots coordinator, was paid $17,250 as a consultant in Vitter’s 2004 Senate race. Records also show that Vitter’s campaign employed Beryl Amedee, the education resource council chairwoman for the Louisiana Family Forum.

The group has been an advocate for the senator, who was elected as a strong supporter of conservative social issues. When Vitter’s use of a Washington, D.C., call-girl service drew comparisons last month to the arrest of Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, in what an undercover officer said was a solicitation for sex in an airport men’s room, Family Forum Executive Director Gene Mills came to Vitter’s defense.

In a video clip the group posted on the Internet site YouTube, Mills said the two senators’ situations are far different. “Craig is denying the allegations,” he said. “Vitter has repented of the allegations. He sought forgiveness, reconciliation and counseling.”

I am not sure why the Louisiana Family Forum needed $100,000 to develop their own “science education” curriculum, but all signs seem to point to the Discovery Institute, a non-profit “intelligent design” think tank that relies, almost exclusively, on funding from conservative donors, institutions, and foundations and who likely assisted the Louisiana Family Forum in drafting the legislation. Thankfully, the Vitter earmark failed. If the LFF had intended (and I’m not saying they did) providing earmarked taxpayer funding to the Discovery Institute to assist their efforts in promoting anti-science “science education,” they also failed. Quoting:

The same day that Mills’ (LFF Director) article ran in the Shreveport Timesa copy of the article appeared at an unusual blog operated by the Discovery Institute. We say it’s unusual because it seems to exist solely for that one article; if it has any other content we can’t find it. The Discovery Institute is so proud of that article it makes us wonder if Mills wrote it or if someone in Seattle drafted it for him.

It is also interesting that Dan Richey, the former Louisiana State Representative who works for the Louisiana Family Forum, was paid $17,250 to consult for Senator Vitter’s 2004 campaign. First, obviously, the optics don’t look that good: Richey consults for Vitter’s campaign and only three years later, Richey’s private, non-profit organization suddenly finds itself as the potential beneficiary of a $100,000 earmark from his former boss.

But even more interesting to me, something I’ve been attempting to shout out from the mountaintops: During his race for Lt. Governor, Roger Villere, the Chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, paid $20,000 in campaign consulting fees to an unregistered company, Sentinel 21, headquartered and based at Dan Richey’s home address. I first wrote about this on October 4, 2010.

At the very least, you have to admit the fact the man responsible for coordinating Louisiana Family Forum’s “grassroots” efforts is being paid, on the side, tens of thousands of dollars in campaign “consultation” fees from Louisiana’s only Republican United States Senator as well as the Chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party to be a little suspicious, maybe even reckless.

On Friday, State Senator Karen Carter Peterson filed a bill to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act. From Zack Kopplin, who hasn’t earned a dime in consultation fees:

BATON ROUGE, LA — (April 17, 2011) — On Friday, April 15th, Senator Karen Carter Peterson introduced SB 70, which would repeal the misnamed and misguided Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), Louisiana’s creationism law. Enacted in 2008, the LSEA is stealth legislation that allows the unconstitutional and unscientific teaching of creationism into public school science classrooms.

“Louisiana’s top priority must be to educate our children so they can compete for the high-paying jobs that we want to create in Louisiana,” said Senator Peterson. “Louisiana’s ‘job killing’ creationism law undermines our education system and drives science and technology based companies away from Louisiana.”

The true intent of the LSEA is clear. The Livingston Parish School Board has taken steps to make creationism part of their curriculum in response to the LSEA passing and, according to Tangipahoa Parish School Board’s March 15, 2011 minutes (P. 69), they are also exploring using this law to teach creationism in their public school system.

Senator Peterson introduced the bill at the request of the Louisiana Coalition for Science and high school senior, Zack Kopplin, who together launched a campaign to repeal the LSEA last summer.

“Louisiana public school students deserve to be taught accurate and evidence based science which will prepare them to take competitive jobs,” said Zack Kopplin. “When you look up creationism onCareerBuilder.com and other job sites, you find zero creationist jobs. That’s right, there are zero creationist jobs.”

The LSEA’s repeal has been endorsed by the National Association of Biology Teachers and also the Louisiana Association of Biology Educators

The LSEA “employs code language like ‘critical thinking’ and ‘teaching the alternatives’ in order to pretend to be promoting something noble,” wrote Zack Kopplin in the Huffington Post earlier this year. “But creative language doesn’t change the fact that they are simply pushing their religious agenda into the science classroom.”

Reasons to Repeal

  • The young people of Louisiana deserve the best possible scientific education. Creationism is not science, and teaching it as science leaves our students at a disadvantage when competing for jobs in the global economy. (http://ncse.com/evolution/why-teach-evolution)
  • The teaching of Evolution is sound science and is also compatible with religious faith, a position that is supported by all mainline religious denominations. (http://ncse.com/media/voices/religion)
  • The Louisiana Science Education Act costs jobs. The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology cancelled its 2011 convention in New Orleans to protest this law (http://www.sicb.org/resources/LouisianaLetterJindal.pdf). How many others will do the same? How many businesses will locate elsewhere because they want well trained scientists? How many researchers will take their talents elsewhere or never come to Louisiana because of this anti-science law?
  • The bill is already producing its intended result. The Livingston Parish School Board is taking steps to act on the legislation’s goals. According to an account in the July 24, 2010, Baton Rouge Advocate, board member David Tate said: “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?” Fellow board member Clint Mitchell responded, “I agree … Teachers should have the freedom to look at creationism and find a way to get it into the classroom.” (http://www.2theadvocate.com/news/99153999.html)