Louisiana senators vote to keep creationism in science class — again

Teen activist Zack Kopplin has lost his third bid to see a repeal of Louisiana’s Science Education Act — a highly controversial piece of legislation that allows teachers to bring creationist textbooks and other instructional materials into the classroom.

Bill 26, which was sponsored by Senator Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans), was defeated by a narrow vote of 2-3 in the Louisiana Senate Education Committee. The vote came after hours of testimony, including a formal statement made by Kopplin. Peterson sponsored the identical SB 70 in 2011 and SB 374 in 2012, which were defeated 1-5 and 1-2 respectively.

"For the past few months we've been organizing relentlessly and having people contact their elected officials to ask them to vote to repeal Louisiana's creationism law,” Kopplin told io9.

“We lost again this year, but we're making progress. We gained a second vote. And on top of this, it was clear that we will eventually win and repeal this vote. It's up to the legislators to choose which side of history they want to stand on,” he said.

During the latest round of testimony, Senator Elbert Guillory (D-Opelousas) made some rather eye-opening remarks. The Times-Picayune reports:

[Guillory] said he had reservations with repealing the act after a spiritual healer correctly diagnosed a specific medical ailment he had. He said he thought repealing the act could "lock the door on being able to view ideas from many places, concepts from many cultures."

"Yet if I closed my mind when I saw this man — in the dust, throwing some bones on the ground, semi-clothed — if I had closed him off and just said, 'That's not science. I'm not going to see this doctor,' I would have shut off a very good experience for myself," Guillory said.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal recently expressed his support of the Act, essentially admitting that it’s a way to get creationism into science class. In response to a question by NBC’s Hoda Qutb, Jindal had this to say:

We have what's called the Science Education Act that says that if a teacher wants to supplement those materials, if the school board is okay with that, if the state school board is okay with that, they can supplement those materials... Let's teach them — I've got no problem if a school board, a local school board, says we want to teach our kids about creationism, that people, some people, have these beliefs as well, let's teach them about 'intelligent design'...What are we scared of?

The repeal campaign has been endorsed by 78 Nobel laureate scientists, nearly 40% of living Nobel laureate scientists, and numerous other prominent scientists. It has also been endorsed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and other major science and educator organizations in Louisiana and the United States.

“The fight for science in Louisiana is ground zero of this fight world wide,” Kopplin told us. “As we change the debate in Louisiana, we're changing the debate everywhere.”

Here's an excerpt from Kopplin's testimony:

Claude Bouchard, the former Director of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, calls the LSEA “anti-science” legislation whose intent is to diminish the role of science in elementary and secondary schools when teachers discuss with their students such hot topics as evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.”

Dr. Bouchard says that the LSEA has economic consequences. “If you are an employer in a high tech industry, in the biotechnology sector or in a business that depends heavily on science, would you prefer to hire a graduate from a state where the legislature has in a sense declared that the laws of chemistry, physics or biology can be suspended?”

Because The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology pulled a prescheduled convention from New Orleans in response to the passage of the LSEA, the repeal of this law is important to our state’s tourism industry.

According to Steve Perry, the President of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, the LSEA “is a poor symbol of our state’s actual commitment to being on the cutting edge of modern science. And, it has a damaging impact on our bringing hundreds of millions of dollars of major international meetings and conventions in medical and basic sciences.”

Perry says “It is such an embarrassing, antiquated law to have on the books when we are making such transformational new investments in biotechnology, gene therapy, and neurosciences. With our entire country voicing the need for more investments in the teaching of science and mathematics, here we are re-living the kind of discussion the Catholic Church must have had with Galileo.”

Image: Lauren McGaughy, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.