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By Barbara Forrest

It’s Kitzmastime! Today, December 20, marks the fifth anniversary of the victory for science education and the Constitution in the case of Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District (2005). As a result of the ruling [pdf] in favor of the plaintiffs delivered by Judge John E. Jones III, we now have a landmark legal opinion that will serve as the resource of first resort for the judge in the next case stirred up either by the creationists at the Discovery Institute or their foot soldiers in Whereverville, USA. This notable pre-Christmas holiday comes on the heels of a victory for science education in Louisiana: the decision by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve new high school biology textbooks for public schools. To celebrate both this local victory and the Kitzmastide anniversary, the Louisiana Coalition for Science has an inspirational Kitzmas present for you.

On December 7, fifteen Louisiana citizens stepped into the spotlight to ask the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to approve new high school biology textbooks for public schools. Spurred by its success at getting the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) passed in 2008, and then its subsequent success at gaining control over BESE policies governing the implementation of the LSEA (see here and here), the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF) then went after the biology textbooks. But this time, the LFF lost. BESE approved the textbooks, first at a meeting of the Student/School Support and Performance Committee meeting on December 7, and again at the general board meeting on December 9. The students of Louisiana who depend on public schools won this round.

What made the difference this time? The difference this time was that pro-science citizens had time and momentum on our side. Thanks to the vigilance of the Baton Rouge Advocate in bringing to public attention the LFF’s attack on the textbooks, and thanks to an organic swell of activism by citizens who were concerned enough to sacrifice their time in order to fight it, the LFF was stopped in its tracks.

Every one of the citizens and students who testified in favor of the textbooks on December 7 had to sacrifice valuable work and study time — not to mention personal time — in order to get involved. Professors and students were in the middle of final exams. Public school teachers had to use their personal days. Scientists and other professionals had to let important work sit while they attended the meeting. Clergy had to disrupt their busy schedules so that BESE members could hear a religious voice in support of good science education rather than only the LFF’s voice attacking it. The Louisiana Science Teachers Association President Shannon Lafont attended the meeting and read a statement from the LSTA.

We also had help in the form of citizen alerts sent out by the Louisiana ACLU and the Forum for Equality, for which we are most grateful. In addition, the Biotechnology Institute in Washington, DC, sent a letter of support that was distributed to BESE members during the meeting. And, as they always do, the National Center for Science Education rendered invaluable assistance.

National media were covering the issue as well — such as John Farrell’s article for Forbes, a national business publication. Lauri Lebo, whose reputation as a fine journalist was sealed with her coverage of the Kitzmiller trial and subsequent book, was covering it on her Religion Dispatches blog.

But ultimately, the credit goes to the Louisiana citizens who showed up at that BESE meeting, both those who testified and those who were in the audience as a show of moral support. After so much negative publicity about Louisiana — much of it well-deserved, unfortunately — the nation now needs to hear the voices of the wonderful citizens who gave their time to show up and speak out.

At this point, you are probably wondering, “So where’s my Kitzmas present?” Here it is: a downloadable collection [pdf] of the testimony of these citizens compiled for your reading pleasure and inspiration. We offer an excerpt from the introduction:

The testimony presented here is a testament to the quality and dedication of the students, teachers, scientists, and concerned citizens who made their voices heard in this effort. However, although we succeeded on December 7, several decades of history have taught us that creationists never take no for an answer. They never give up their efforts to force their particular religious agenda into the classrooms — and into the minds — of our young people. In order to make sure that Louisiana students get the education they deserve and that the religious freedom of every student is respected, the people of Louisiana — parents, teachers and professors, scientists, the business community, clergy, and concerned citizens — who want children properly educated must make their voices heard and must back up their words with actions. The Louisiana Coalition for Science invites them to join us in this effort.

There will be a next time. The Louisiana Family Forum is not going to shrink away after one defeat. They’ll be back next year, making mischief again with the help of the Discovery Institute. And the Louisiana Coalition for Science will again need the help of citizens who value both good science education and the constitutional separation of church and state. We will need eyes and ears in every area of Louisiana. We will need people to contact their legislators to help in Zachary Kopplin’s effort to repeal the LSEA. And we are going to ask you for this help.

So settle in with some hot chocolate beside your Christmas tree and read this collection of testimony from your fellow Louisianians who cared enough to get involved. Oh, and one more thing . . .



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