Lately around northwest Louisiana, first there came the alleged introduction of religion in the classroom in Sabine Parish by promoting one set of religious beliefs over another. Then in Caddo Parish there appeared the public admission of a teacher who wrote she provides insight on creationism in contrast to evolution, where the former typically traces back to a religious belief. Together, they define the acceptable boundaries between religious belief and secular schooling, and why a threatened Louisiana law valuably assists in this task.
In the former case, a suit was filed in January accusing the school of constitutional violations by actively promoting Christianity. Among the allegations, to which the school and district have not yet replied, is that in one class extra credit was given to students for answering questions associated with Christianity, a student was belittled for lack of adherence to Christianity, and that school prayers are organized by the school.
If any of these are the case, then the school in in violation. U.S. Supreme Court interpretations of the First Amendment dictate that schools must remain neutral in the question of religious belief or even concerning the concept of religion, although religious-based activities may occur on their campuses but only if organized by students themselves outside of instructional periods or of school-sponsored events.
In the latter instance, the facts are not in dispute because they all appeared in print courtesy of a letter-to-the-editor written by science teacher Charlotte Hinson. The crucial question here is whether her exact comments in her critique of evolution veer into advocacy of religious belief. The Supreme Court has ruled that teachers cannot utilize a creationist viewpoint based upon religious belief even as a counterpoint to the theory of evolution.
This presently is reflected in the state’s Louisiana Science Education Act, which is to promote “an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes 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,” and “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.” Teachers remaining faithful to this legal imperative commit no legal violation.
But ever since this law was passed over five years ago, a persistent minority has, unsuccessfully, agitated for its repeal. Displaying obvious problems with reading comprehension, they insist that its wording allows the teaching of creationism. Since then, every legislative session has seen an attempt to kill the law; repeat offender Democrat state Sen. Karen Peterson, who also leads her state political party, is this year’s protagonist with her SB 175.
One wonders why these objections to the law continue when it only grants, in the instance of evolutionary theory, teachers the opportunity to note the shortcomings of evolutionary theory that diminish its ability to explain comprehensively and convincingly how life began on Earth and evolved into its present forms. The law also allows them for this to use materials provided by state educators and on their own, so long as the state does not prohibit the supplements they choose. In short, so long as instructors do not suggest some kind of divine intervention explains or better explains life of Earth, the law reflects that the First Amedment wholly sanctions this kind of teaching.
Whatever unreasonable fear or visceral psychological need lies behind opposition to the law, regardless that virulent obsession conveys a negative impression to the wider world. That a segment of Louisiana politicians and interest group elites continue to stump against the idea of critical thinking by manufacturing a controversy where none exists sends the wrong signal outside of the state’s boundaries. Calls for repeal exhibit endorsement of a form of intellectual Luddism, a braying to onlookers that Louisiana values neither education nor tolerance of differing viewpoints, where orthodoxy rules and critiques to it are unwelcome.
Worse, that attitude if encouraged can spill over into the teaching of other areas of scientific controversy, such as that listed in the law on the question of anthropogenic significant climate change that many elites wish to declare it settled with their view as triumphant when so much evidence disconfirms that view. And then it’s not a long reach to spreading orthodoxy that remains unconfirmed featuring subjectivity and bias in its construction to silence controversies in areas not based on science.
This should worry anybody who cherishes quality education and free inquiry. Having the LSEA serves as a tiny barrier against pushback to these principles, as long as advocates of them respect the boundaries it imposes.