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By Barbara Forrest

Well, the Discovery Institute is apparently going to be nicely repaid for its investment in the Pelican State. DI’s promotion of its academic freedom legislation in Louisiana is bearing fruit. At its July 22, 2010, meeting, the Livingston Parish School Board announced its interest in teaching creationism under the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act. Actually, they did more than announce their interest. They proclaimed it. There are more Discovery Institute connections to this development than you can shake a stick at. But let’s let the headlines make the announcement, shall we? Here is how the announcement appeared on the Livingston Parish News‘s website on July 24:

Here is the headline in the print edition (click the image for a larger view):

Let’s Connect the Dots

If there was any doubt that people in Louisiana understand exactly why the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) was enacted into law in 2008, those doubts have now been dispelled. Our citizens have clearly connected the dots that link the LSEA and creationism. Note that the Livingston Parish News headline says “CREATION SCIENCE.” The opening blurb (visible in the larger image above) also says, “School board members want their curriculum designers to take advantage of a recent state law allowing science classes to add the controversial ‘pro-Christian’ interpretation of nature.” (A similar article in the July 24 Baton Rouge Advocate bears the headline, “School Board might OK teaching creationism.”) [all emphasis added]

Livingston Parish Director of Curriculum Jan Benton, in explaining to the school board on July 22 why the curriculum has not been changed in the wake of the LSEA, also explicitly made the connection. She told the board that “In the 2008 legislative session, the Science Education Act was adopted. It deals with creationism and the teaching of it in the schools. We had decided at that time to not teach it in our system.” [emphasis added]

School board member David Tate, who appears to be the ringleader in this outbreak, has also made the connection. Here is what Tate said at the board meeting:

Every one of us (board members) sitting up here believes in creationism. We just sit up here and let them teach evolution and not take a stand about creationism. To me, how come we don’t look into this as people who are strong Christians and see what we can do to teach creationism in schools?

It makes sense that Tate spoke up so prominently. He has been pushing to get creationism into the curriculum since 2004, as the Baton Rouge Advocate reported. In an excerpt from that story, note that there is a familiar name.

School Board member wants creationism taught October 22, 2004, Friday Metro Edition BYLINE: DEBRA LEMOINE LIVINGSTON – School Board member David Tate called Thursday for adding creationism to the science curriculum in Livingston Parish schools. . . . Tate said he wants creationism, which refers to a life-origin story in the biblical Book of Genesis, added to the evolution science lessons that are already part of the standard science curriculum. Representatives from the Family Forum have met with the parish school system’s curriculum director and secondary education director to recommend a format for supplemental materials to science lessons on creationism, said Randy Pope, assistant superintendent. [emphasis added]

Say what?! A proposal in 2004 from the Louisiana Family Forum to use **creationist** supplemental materials in Livingston Parish?! Rev. Gene Mills, the executive director of the LFF, must have momentarily forgotten that in 2008 when he denied in the the Hammond Daily Star that the LSEA — which at that point was entitled the “Louisiana Academic Freedom Act” — was about creationism :

Neither the Academic Freedom Act nor its companion, the 2006 Ouachita Parish School Board’s Science Curriculum Policy Resolution, would protect the teaching of creationism. . . . This bill is not about teaching creationism or religion. [See below for information about the Ouachita policy.]

Darrell White, a retired Baton Rouge City Court judge who helped found the LFF but now works for the group as a “consultant,” was the LFF representative who was working the school board in 2004. The LFF was apparently trying to get a head start on 2008, although, for some reason, the LP school board didn’t follow through that year. White (who travels around giving Bibles to judges) is also the direct liaison between the LFF and the Discovery Institute. Let’s digress momentarily to look at the evidence for that connection.

Darrell White, the Louisiana Family Forum, and the Discovery Institute

In 2003, when the Discovery Institute inserted itself into the Texas biology textbook selection process, White traveled to Texas to attend the Board of Education hearings in Austin and wrote a letter [pdf] to the board supporting DI’s attempt to manipulate that process. (White and the LFF are gearing up for a Texas-style attack on science textbooks in Louisiana, a topic that will require a separate post. But we can make book on the Discovery Institute’s involvement in this as well.)

In November 2006, when White engineered the passage of Ouachita Parish’s “academic freedom” policy — the pre-LSEA camel’s nose under the tent in Louisiana — his accomplishment was applauded by the Discovery Institute, which reprinted and linked to the policy on its website. (Download the policy from the Ouachita Parish School Board website here [pdf].) The Ouachita policy was also announced at Access Research Network (ARN), an intelligent design clearinghouse that is run by ID supporters in Colorado Springs and functions as a de facto arm of the Discovery Institute. The announcement, posted by ARN operative Tom Magnuson, has a most revealing URL:

The Discovery Institute positively gushed over White’s Ouachita Parish accomplishment in a December 6, 2006, post by DI staffer Anika Smith: “The Ouachita Citizen Provides Objective News in Louisiana.” (The gushing was induced not only by White’s accomplishment but by the fact that the Ouachita Citizen reported the Ouachita development so approvingly, highlighting White’s involvement, with no dissenting interviewees.) DI was so happy about the Ouachita Parish academic freedom policy that they cited it in their downloadable intelligent design “briefing packet” for teachers: “The Theory of Intelligent Design: A Briefing Packet for Educators” [pdf here; see pp. 8 and 14].

During the 2008 legislative session, White’s May 16, 2008, column, “Why We Should Support Academic Freedom Bills for the Science Classroom,” was posted on the ARN blog, The ID Report. A few days later, DI reprinted on their website his May 20 letter to the Baton Rouge Advocate, “Debate, Evidence, and Evolution.” On May 21, the Discovery Institute rewarded White and the LFF for doing all the legwork in the Louisiana “academic freedom” initiative by sending DI staffer Casey Luskin and Caroline Crocker, a Virginia creationist who was featured in the ID propaganda movie Expelled, to Baton Rouge to attend the House Education Committee hearing concerning the LSEA. As a de facto representative of the Discovery Institute, Crocker testified in favor of the bill. Subsequent to Crocker’s testimony, DI fellow David DeWolf revealed in a DI podcast interview that he had helped craft the Louisiana bill. (Listen to DI’s podcasts about Louisiana, including those with Crocker and DeWolf, here [May 2008] and here [June 2008].)

The partnership between DI and LFF produced the ultimate pay-off on June 25, 2008, when Bobby Jindal signed the Louisiana Science Education Act into law. On June 27, 2008, at 7:18 a.m., the morning the news hit the local newspapers, the Discovery Institute declared victory — literally.

Discovery Institute and the Louisiana Family Forum — A Match Made in Heaven (or Two Peas in the Same Pod — Pick Your Metaphor)

In June 2009, while the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) was doing its job of drafting a policy according to which the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) would handle complaints about supplementary materials in science classes (see here for background), the Discovery Institute interfered in Louisiana policy-making a second time. Casey Luskin contacted Nancy Beben, the Director of Curriculum Standards in the Standards, Assessments, and Accountability Division at the Louisiana Department of Education. When Beben wouldn’t kowtow to him, Luskin criticized her publicly on DI’s Evolution News & Views weblog:

Knowing the DOE’s history of picking ‘experts’ who were evolutionists that opposed the LSEA, this past June I spoke with DOE staff member Nancy Beben, who helped draft the DOE’s proposed rules. I raised these concerns with Ms. Beben that the DOE’s proposed additions to the rules lacked express provisions giving due process to certain parties, like the publisher or the local school district, to defend the materials being challenged, and allowed the DOE to have arbitrary power to scuttle the decisions of the reviewers. Beben’s response to me told me everything I needed to know:

She snapped that ‘there are no parties in science,’ just ‘facts.’

The implications of that comment are profound: Ms. Beben and the DOE apparently view science simplistically (and inaccurately) as a monolithic enterprise without credible dissenting minority viewpoints. This means their view is directly inimical to the premise underlying the LSEA, which is that there can be credible minority scientific viewpoints worth disclosing to students when instructing them about controversial scientific topics.

Apparently Ms. Beben and the DOE not only don’t understand how science works, but their view is directly inimical to the intent of the LSEA. To put it bluntly, the DOE was trying to bureaucratically muzzle the intent of the Louisiana legislature and skirt state law by proposing rules that would effectively gut the LSEA.

In his last statement, Luskin employs the classic creationist tactic of projection — accuse your opponent of precisely what you are doing so that you can divert attention away from the fact that you are doing it. It was the Louisiana Family Forum, working with the Discovery Institute, that gutted (1) the BESE policies governing implementation of the LSEA (January 2009) and (2) the filing of complaints about supplementary materials (September 2009). BESE undermined the DOE — and the school children of Louisiana — by giving the Discovery Institute and the LFF exactly what they wanted: a complaint procedure that the creationists — i.e, the Discovery Institute and the LFF — can effectively control.

In September 2009, when BESE caved and allowed the LFF to shape the complaint procedure, one of the people who showed up with the LFF to lobby BESE at the September 16 meeting had already helped the Discovery Institute in its effort — ultimately successful — to get creationist code language inserted into the Texas state science standards on March 25, 2009. Donald Ewert, a creationist from Oklahoma, had testified to the Texas Board of Education that The theory of evolution contributes very little to an understanding of basic science and scientific research.” At BESE’s September 16, 2009, Student/School Performance and Support Committee meeting, he rendered a similar service. Ewert is a signatory to the Discovery Institute’s list of scientists [pdf] “who dissent from Darwinism.”

There has been quite a bit of reciprocal back-scratching by scientists who are also creationists. Wade Warren, a biologist at Louisiana College who testified on LFF’s behalf in favor of the LSEA in 2008, also testified on DI’s behalf at the same Texas hearing that Ewert attended. Casey Luskin gave both Warren and Ewert due credit on DI’s Evolution News & Views blog. John West, associate director of DI’s creationist Center for Science and Culture, extended DI’s gratitude to Ewert and Warren in no less notable a venue than the Washington Post.

There is one more dot to connect in this clearly emerging picture of just how tight the Discovery Institute and the Louisiana Family Forum are. DI has reprinted on its website a June 26, 2010, guest column that Rev. Mills wrote for the Shreveport Times. Mills was trying to rebut a previous column by Louisiana attorney Charles Kincade in which Kincade criticized the LSEA. Mills leaped to the law’s defense:

Anyone who repeats Kincade’s tired old line that the LSEA will ‘permit the teaching of religious creationism‘ needs to be administered either a literacy test or a lie detector test: the statute expressly prohibits, at Louisiana Family Forum’s (LFF) insistence, ‘discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.’ [emphasis added] [See also my rebuttal of Mills in the ST here.]

It’s safe to say that there is an ongoing relationship here. In fact, the evidence is undeniable that there is a direct relationship between the Louisiana Family Forum and the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute is one of the only two organizations that promoted the LSEA, the other being the LFF. DI therefore shares with the LFF the direct responsibility both for this law’s passage and for whatever creationist initiatives result from it, whether in Livingston Parish or anywhere else in Louisiana.

Now Back to Livingston Parish

So back in Livingston Parish, David Tate is again proposing that parish schools teach creationism, this time under the supposed protection of the LSEA. Let’s see what Tate had to say in 2008 about the Louisiana Science Education Act when he attended the April 17 Senate Education Committee hearing. He knew what everyone else knew, namely, that the bill which was initially introduced as the “Louisiana Academic Freedom Act” — in honor of its relationship to the Discovery Institute’s “Model Academic Freedom Statute on Evolution” — and which was enacted as the “Louisiana Science Education Act” was intended to permit the teaching of creationism. He was quoted by the New Orleans Times-Picayune (April 18, 2008):

David Tate, a Livingston Parish School Board member, said after the meeting, ‘I believe that both sides — the creationism side and the evolution side — should be presented and let students decide what they believe.’ Tate said the bill is needed because ‘teachers are scared to talk about’ creation, even when students bring it up. [emphasis added]

So there we have it. Tate gave plenty of notice that he would try to put this law to its intended use.

Meanwhile, Back at the Discovery Institute . . .

The boys at the Discovery Institute have been totally quiet about this development. They are surely hoping that no one will notice the elephant in the living room. DI will try to deny that what the Livingston Parish School Board discussed at the July 22 meeting reflects the intention of the law that they promoted. But promote it they did, eagerly and energetically, so they’re probably having kittens up there in Seattle. They’re probably already writing up a sanitized, code-term-saturated policy for the Livingston Parish School Board, which they hope will be more cooperative than the Dover, Pennsylvania, School Board turned out to be when DI tried to persuade that board to clean up its language.

One can just imagine the furious e-mail activity that must be taking place between Casey Luskin and Darrell White:

Casey Luskin: Hey, Darrell, you guys aren’t sticking to the script. We’ve been over this a hundred times. Didn’t you practice this with the school board ahead of time? You aren’t supposed to mention ‘intelligent design’ and you darn sure aren’t supposed to use the word ‘creationism’! OK, one more time — here’s how it goes: first, the Discovery Institute teaches the Louisiana Family Forum the code terms, and second, the Louisiana Family Forum teaches them to the school board. What’s hard about that, Darrell?

So for Pete’s sake, clean up your language down there! We spent all that time and energy helping you people out, and now you’re screwing everything up! Get with the program. We told you how you were supposed to do this. Instead of using the word ‘creationism,’ your people on the Livingston Parish School Board — or Ouachita Parish, or wherever — are supposed to say that they simply want the public schools to help students engage in “critical analysis” or “critical thinking” about evolution. Or maybe they can say that the school board just wants to add the “evidence for and against evolution” or the “strengths and weaknesses of evolution.” But none of this creationism talk, for heaven’s sake! They’re tipping everyone off! We already got our butts kicked once up in Pennsylvania!

Darrell White: Now, now, calm down, son. Everyone down here knows what’s really going on, and most people are totally cool with it. Creationism, intelligent design, critical analysis, strengths and weaknesses. What’s the difference? You and our other Discovery Institute friends already did your job by providing the template for the Louisiana Science Education Act — your “Model Academic Freedom Statute on Evolution” — and then lending us David DeWolf to help us tweak and sanitize our version of it so we could sucker the legislature. And on top of that, y’all were nice enough to send Caroline Crocker — a real creationist who’s practically a movie star! — down here to testify for the bill. And then on top of all that, y’all helped us steamroll the DOE and BESE. We’re mighty obliged, son. But you can let the grownups take it from here. We may talk slow down here, but we know what we’re doing. It’s gonna work out fine.

Casey: OMG — But let’s get that code language into whatever **written** policy the school board comes up with, OK? And get the word out to your school board friends in other parishes. Can you at least handle that? Don’t make me have to come down there again. OMG.

NEWS FLASH for the Discovery Institute: Your old creationist terminology trick has been amply exposed and explained. This won’t work any more. It won’t fool anyone.

Here is the simple truth: The Discovery Institute is heavily invested in Louisiana — up to their eyeballs. Whether the Livingston Parish School Board or some other Louisiana school board implements the LSEA — in the way that we all know is intended — won’t matter. This Livingston Parish development — and any other initiative anywhere in Louisiana — will be the Discovery Institute’s baby (or, rather, its tarbaby). As we say way down south, “You cain’t disown this youngun. It’s the spittin’ image of its daddy!” The Livingston Parish CREATIONISM initiative — in whatever form it takes — will be the Discovery Institute’s offspring. Discovery Institute owns this.

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