Press Release (pdf) — LA Coalition for Science, June 16, 2008

The LA Coalition for Science invites all concerned citizens to join us in asking Gov. Jindal to veto SB 733.

E-mail: http://www.gov.la.gov/index.cfm?md=form&tmp=email_governor

Phone: 225-342-7015 or 866-366-1121 (Toll Free)

Fax: 225-342-7099

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LA Coalition for Science

June 16, 2008

Honorable Bobby Jindal
Baton Rouge, LA 70802

Re: Veto of SB 733

Dear Governor Jindal:

SB 733, recently passed by both houses of the legislature, purports to enable teachers to help students “develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.” This is a seemingly noble-sounding but deceptive goal.

SB 733 is a thinly disguised attempt to advance the “Wedge Strategy” of the Discovery Institute (DI), a creationist think tank that is collaborating with the LA Family Forum to get intelligent design (ID) creationism into LA public school science classes. John West, associate director of DI’s Center for Science and Culture, has even presumed to interpret SB 733 on DI’s website so as to favor his group’s agenda. (See West’s “Questions and Answers About the Proposed Louisiana Science Education Act.”) Within minutes of the Senate’s passage of the bill on June 16, West posted the news of Louisiana’s passage of the “landmark” LA Science Education Act on DI’s website. According to one Louisiana news account, West indicated that DI hopes to see its own creationist textbook, the deceptively titled Explore Evolution, used in our science classes as one of the supplements that SB 733 will permit teachers to use (Opelousas Daily World, 6/16/08). DI apparently has a financial as well as a religious and political interest in this legislation.

Creationism, which includes both young-earth creationism and ID, is not science but a sectarian view based on the Bible. Young-earth creationism is based on Genesis, and ID is based on the Gospel of John, as was established in federal court in the case of Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District (2005). The Bible was never intended to be a science textbook. Evolution has long been accepted by the Catholic Church and most other mainstream churches. The late Pope John Paul II said in 1996 that “new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis.” (Truth Cannot Contradict Truth, October 22, 1996) As the pope recognized and other mainstream religions also recognize, there is no conflict between teaching children the scientific fact of evolution in school and providing religious instruction at home and in church. Millions of Americans lead committed religious lives while fully accepting modern science.

Since you hold a biology degree from Brown University, one of the nation’s most prestigious schools, you certainly appreciate Theodosius Dobzhansky’s famous insight, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” You also surely understand that there is no scientific controversy over the fact of evolution. The current controversy is a political one, manufactured nationally by the Discovery Institute and here in Louisiana by the LA Family Forum, which does not represent the majority of Louisiana’s citizens but would impose its agenda on our entire state, even our children.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is violated when the government endorses a sectarian doctrine, as SB 733 would do, despite denials by the bill’s supporters. The section of SB 733 stipulating that the bill “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” actually comes from the DI’s own model academic freedom act. If SB 733 were truly about teaching science, no such disclaimer would be needed.

If SB 733 becomes law, we can anticipate the embarrassment it will bring to the state, not to mention the prospect of spending millions of taxpayer dollars defending the inevitable federal court challenge. Consider also that federal courts have uniformly invalidated every effort to attack the teaching of evolution in public schools, including, among others, (1) Edwards v. Aguillard, a 1987 case that Louisiana lost in the U.S. Supreme Court; and (2) Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District (pdf), a 2005 Pennsylvania federal court case in which a conservative Republican judge appointed by Pres. George W. Bush thoroughly examined and rejected a school board policy that presented ID to students as an alternative to evolution.

With our state still recovering from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, does Louisiana need the expense and embarrassment of defending – and losing – another lawsuit in federal court? What image will this legislation convey to high-tech companies and skilled individuals who might consider locating here? On your “Workforce Development” website, where you tell readers that “I am asking you to once again believe in Louisiana,” you acknowledge that because of a “skills gap,” the “training and education of our citizens does not meet the requirements of available jobs.” You state that “the lack of economic mobility discourages many Louisianans, including thousands of young people who have left our state in search of greater opportunities.” You also highlight Louisiana’s low educational ranking as one cause of the “workforce crisis in LA”: “In a 2007 national Chance-for-Success Index, Louisiana ranks #49 in the nation based on 13 indicators that highlight whether young children get off to a good start, succeed in elementary and secondary school, and hit crucial educational and economic benchmarks as adults.” SB 733 will degrade the quality of science education just when the state is so working hard to improve public schools.

Surely you agree that SB 733 sends the wrong message to the nation if we want to develop additional high tech companies such as the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, LIGO, and other research universities and centers across the state. SB 733 will sacrifice the education of our children to further the political and religious aims of the LA Family Forum and the Discovery Institute, an out-of-state creationist think tank whose only interest in Louisiana is promoting their agenda at the expense of our children.

You have repeatedly stressed your commitment to making Louisiana a place where our young people can build families and careers. You can help to make Louisiana that place by proving that you support the hundreds of science teachers and thousands of students in the public schools and universities across the state. You can demonstrate your commitment to improving both Louisiana’s image and our educational system by vetoing SB 733. The state and the nation are watching.

We call upon you to veto SB 733 in the best interests of our children and to protect the reputation of our state.

Sincerely,

LA Coalition for Science