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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)
9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ace Midnight #

    Lamar:

    I posed this question in another entry, but I pose it again:

    Is it that you do not want specific scriptural interpretations of Genesis (or whatever creation dogma to which people of faith might subscribe or endorse) offered as alternative theories to the wildly speculative theory of evolution or that you do not want any discussion of the possibility of an intelligent creator of the universe at all?

    I admit there is as much scientific evidence of a flying spaghetti monster as there is of Yahweh, Vishnu or Allah. However, to completely eliminate the possibility of intelligent design seems horribly close-minded and “non-scientific”. Just looking at the Big Bang – any action of that magnitude raises two HUGE questions – 1.) What was the initiating cause and 2.) What was the nature of the universe prior to that – both of those questions can have several possible causes which include an intelligent designer and remain completely consistent with current scientific thought.

    Do you propose that a scientific exploration of intelligent design has no place in a science education class?

    April 18, 2011
  2. Ryan #

    Ace:

    Wow. I’m surprised that you seem to misunderstand the definition of theory in common, every day use and its definition in science. From Merriam Webster, the definition of theory:

    Definition of THEORY

    1: the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another
    2: abstract thought : speculation
    3: the general or abstract principles of a body of fact, a science, or an art
    4a : a belief, policy, or procedure proposed or followed as the basis of action
    4b : an ideal or hypothetical set of facts, principles, or circumstances —often used in the phrase in theory
    5: a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena
    6a : a hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation
    6b : an unproved assumption : conjecture
    6c : a body of theorems presenting a concise systematic view of a subject

    Folks like you think all scientific theory is being described as it is 6b above: “an unproved assumption” which is why you think it acceptable to describe the religious theory of evolution in the same terms as the scientific theory of evolution. But you’re wrong. As you can see above, theory has 6 separate definitions, and some even have variations within that definition.

    The scientific definition of theory is embodied in the 5th definition: “a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena.” The inclusion of plausible means that the theory must make sense in light of all the facts. In short, it must account for all the facts that we have. And that brings me to my final quotation:

    “Let me try to make crystal clear what is established beyond reasonable doubt, and what needs further study, about evolution. Evolution as a process that has always gone on in the history of the earth can be doubted only by those who are ignorant of the evidence or are resistant to evidence, owing to emotional blocks or to plain bigotry. By contrast, the mechanisms that bring evolution about certainly need study and clarification. There are no alternatives to evolution as history that can withstand critical examination. Yet we are constantly learning new and important facts about evolutionary mechanisms.”

    So, the fact that the earth is 3.6 billion years old cannot be disproven by a bunch of religious snollygosters who are taking advantage of the crappy education this nation offers its citizenry.

    April 18, 2011
  3. Ace, I agree wholeheartedly with Ryan. You seem to confuse the colloquial definition of the word “theory” with the scientific definition. The theory of evolution is not “wildly speculative.” It’s testable via the scientific method.

    I’ll try to paraphrase what I recently discussed with Zack:

    To me, there is an attempt to conflate two important but vastly different questions: Why? and How?

    Religion may help us answer the question of “why,” but religion is not science. Science cannot tell us “why” we are all living, sentient beings who possess the unique and awesome ability to observe our own existence. It cannot tell us “why” the Big Bang occurred or “why” our universe is so vastly complex and yet so brilliantly ordered.

    These are all important questions, and people should be allowed to arrive at their own conclusions. Moreover, there is nothing wrong with a student in a biology class asking those questions. Ideally, the academy should support and promote the free and open exchange of ideas.

    But the answers to those profound questions are articles of personal faith. In our country, we cherish and celebrate the freedom of religion; we are all Constitutionally-protected to practice whatever religion we may choose. We are also protected to not practice or believe in any religion at all.

    Science cannot and does not explain everything, but this current law, however cleverly framed it may be, is nothing more than an egregious attempt by the Louisiana Family Forum and the Discovery Institute to reinvent and reinterpret the basic and fundamental definition of science. Science cannot always answer the question of why, but it can offer clear, verifiable, and testable answers to the question of how. Let’s dedicate ourselves to providing the highest quality science education in our science classrooms. Let’s not be fooled or hoodwinked by those who seek to usurp science in order to advance their own religious beliefs. It doesn’t mean that students should not be encouraged to challenge assumptions, whether in science or religion, but it does require all of us to respect the integrity of scientific inquiry– and to ensure that our science curriculum is not distorted or diminished by those who only seek to use the science classroom as a way of promoting unscientific religiously-based beliefs.

    Evolution is not a “belief system,” as some may suggest. That’s a false equivalency. The notion that God created the world less than 6,000 years ago and sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be martyred in order to redeem original sin… or that Siddhartha Gautama sat under a bodhi tree and attained enlightenment in order to provide a pathway to nirvana… those are articles of faith; they speak to questions of why. But they’re not scientific.

    No one denies the importance of a robust exchange of ideas, but as the old adage goes, there is a time and a place for everything. This whole debate has nothing to do with allowing students the opportunity to ask questions; it’s about the fundamentals of science education. It’s about how we, as a State, value the integrity of scientific inquiry. Intelligent design is not an alternate “scientific theory;” intelligent design is not science. It seeks to answer a series of questions outside of science, and as such, although there is definitely ample room for the discussion, it does not and should not be considered a legitimate component of science education. And most certainly, it should not be subsidized by public taxpayer dollars as a part of a science curriculum. We desperately need to improve Louisiana’s science and math performance. With all due respect, we cannot afford to have our public education system hijacked by people who do not understand or appreciate the distinctions between scientific theories and religion.

    – Lamar (B.A., Religious Studies, Rice University, 2005).

    PS: Sorry, had to add that.

    April 18, 2011
    • Ace Midnight #

      Well I guess I misunderstood – adaptation and natural selection are observable, repeatable and provable natural concepts. The fossil record is replete examples of species “evolving”.

      However, the conceptual “tree of life” is merely that – a concept. The theory that life developed on this planet over a long period of time, like a tree starting with a single trunk, then variously branching out to form the existing diversity is just that: a theory – when we get a working time machine, then we can test it. Perhaps, if human intelligence, in recorded form, persists enough we might be able to observe over a few thousand years a provable, radical alteration in the nature of species, but thus, in recorded human history, cats come from other cats, chickens from chickens, robins from robins and so on.

      Another thing that can be scientifically questioned is DNA – the vast majority of DNA molecules contain sufficient information to create most other species. We don’t even fully understand how the information is used to create the species from which it is extracted, much less how it is all organized – though we have learned a tremendous amount in the past 40 or 50 years. But there is no question that the genetic code is “information”. And being information that is deciphered and reused, and can be very precisely and fairly compared to either a language or a branch of mathematics (and it IS a branch of organic chemistry) is it not a scientific question to postulate “From whence came this information and why?” If it is indeed a completely natural spontaneous process where the various adaptations and useful, non-fatal mutations that must have occurred in a G-dless universe – does it make it a less scientific inquiry to merely raise the possibility that an alien, foreign, ancient “other” intelligence “might” have been the source of such information, regardless of the divinity of the source?

      From all of your responses, I believe my I have my answer and it is a resounding “NO – NO discussion of intelligent design of any kind in science classes.” Tell me again, how evolution doesn’t require an investment of faith?

      April 19, 2011
      • Ace, I always appreciate your contributions on this website. I love asking the question “Why?”. Ask my family. I always have.

        I don’t think anyone is attempting to stifle the free and open exchange of ideas. This is about the integrity of science. It’s about the curriculum we adopt in science classrooms.

        By your logic, tell me again, how doesn’t 2+2 equalling 4 require an investment of faith?

        I’ve tested the formula repeatedly, and I keep getting the same answer: 4. But you’re right: What are numbers? What are words? We’re only attempting to signify things we could never possibly understand. What’s the use? Why even bother asking “how?” if we don’t know why?

        Far out, man. ;)

        No need for science, right? Science is just a word that struts on the stage of the academy, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

        C’mon Ace. You’re not really talking about science; you’re attempting to talk around it. This is actually a very mundane issue: It’s about the curriculum, plain and simple.

        April 19, 2011
        • Ace Midnight #

          Mathematics was created by man to explain parts of the universe. 1+1 also equals 10 (in binary).

          But we digress again – the theory there is an intelligent design is just as scientifically explorable (and can be subject to just as vigorous a scientific explanation) as is the theory we all originated in the primordial soup, from a single common ancestor that spontaneously became alive through a series of completely natural occurrences.

          As on many issues, I see we will just have to agree to disagree on this one.

          April 20, 2011
  4. I just don’t get the impetus for this debate.

    It’s school. It’s a science class. We teach science in science classes.

    Science tell us what and how things have occurred. Evolution is not a theory in the fact that we know these things happened and we know how they happened and for the most part we understand the factors at play for determining which things take off and which don’t. Basically, while unprovable in the time of Darwin, evolution is no more a theory today than is the theory that if you put electricity through a material with a given resistance it will glow (lightbulbs!).

    Religion however, and all religious reasoning for things are theory. That’s the core of what religion is — choosing to believe something without proof. I think the word for that is ‘faith’.

    There is room for religion and for the creation story within the scope of evolution because while science tells us what and how life has changed from a few amino acids to a system of complex organisms to the humanity of today, it can’t answer why. Why is not really the domain of science. Whether something is theoretical or concrete, answering why things occur is beyond the scope of any of us. Some people choose to believe that there is no reason for anything, that things happen on a purely random basis. Others choose to believe that there is some higher power at play and that these scientifically documented changes are happening because it has been decided they should.

    Every two year old asks their parents why. Any 92 year old worth his salt will still be asking himself why till the day he dies.

    Leave religion at home and at church where it belongs, but cherish the gift of science and the fact that we as a people have the ability to learn what and how things happen and to then be left with the wonder of asking why.

    Oh and BTW, the genesis and the creation story is not even Christian. It’s not Jewish either. It’s thousands of years older than either of those religions (proven linguistically) and all variants of it are figurative using certain things and ideas (like 7 days, and adam and eve) to explain rather complex ideas in terms that uneducated people could understand. They pretty much all say the same thing and they’re all nearly identically inline with scientific accounts of the same thing (big bang theory, geology, evolution, etc). Even if you choose to blindly ignore this fact and believe that the judeo-christian version is somehow the original and correct, then keep in mind that in the dialect in which it entered our religions that the word “Adam” meant ‘earth’ and “Eve” meant ‘life’ meaning that the rather nonsensical account of God creating a single man, and then from the dirt a single woman from which all humans sprung should actually read that God created the earth, then from its soils he created life (wow that reading is still from the same story but knowing what the words actually mean somehow makes a LOT more sense).

    April 19, 2011
  5. Alex Cenla #

    Very well put Drew.
    Alex

    April 20, 2011
  6. Yen (Ian Gardner #

    How many times does this have to said before the fools who would have Creationism taught in the Science classroom get the point. Science is not just another “belief system”. No belief system instructs its adherents to question the system itself. Science does.

    Yen – Australia

    January 10, 2012

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