Over the protests of leading scientific organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Institute of Biological Sciences, Louisiana’s governor Bobby Jindal signed Senate Bill 733 into law, twenty-seven years after the state passed its Balanced Treatment for Evolution-Science and Creation-Science Act, a law overturned by the Supreme Court in 1987. News of Jindal’s approval of the bill was buried in a press release issued on June 25, 2008, in which Jindal listed seventy-five bills he recently signed. SB 733 will, according to Houma Today (June 27, 2008), “empower educators to pull religious beliefs into topics like evolution, cloning and global warming by introducing supplemental materials.”
The New Orleans Times-Picayune broke the story on June 27, 2008, observing that “Jindal attracted national attention and strongly worded advice about how he should deal with the Louisiana Science Education Act,” and that he “ignored those calling for a veto and this week signed the law that will allow local school boards to approve supplemental materials for public school science classes as they discuss evolution, cloning and global warming.” While Jindal did not return media calls for comment, the newspaper quoted a statement of his that read in part, “I will continue to consistently support the ability of school boards and BESE [the state board of elementary and secondary education] to make the best decisions to ensure a quality education for our children.”
Local teachers are concerned that the bill could open the door to creationism. As the Lafayette Daily Advertiser reported (June 26, 2008), “The possibility of the introduction of ‘wacko’ theories of the origins of life Carencro High School science teacher Warren Sensat.” Sensat told the newspaper, “When you open the door to bring in unapproved curriculum, you can bring in some wacko stuff.” Other teachers were less worried. After interviewing Tim Tate, a science curriculum supervisor for the Lafayette Parish schools, the Advertiser reported that “he’s not worried about teachers using inappropriate materials. He expects teachers to only focus on the state curriculum, but acknowledges that different ideas will always be brought into the classroom.”
Ars Technica’s John Timmer points out (June 27, 2008), however, that “most observers are expecting the passage of the LSEA by the state to unleash a series of Dover-style cases, as various local boards attempt to discover the edges of what’s constitutionally allowable,” citing a letter from Alan I. Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, who told Jindal that the bill would “provoke an expensive, divisive legal fight.” Timmer argues that, “In essence, Jindal is inviting local school boards to partake in that explosion without committing the state to paying the inevitable costs. In the meantime, the students of the state will be subjected to an ‘anything goes’ approach to science — if it looks scientific to a school board, it can appear in the classroom.”
Conservative columnist John Derbyshire echoed these fears, writing (on The Corner, the blog of National Review Online, June 20, 2008), “The entire effect of this law will be that one cartload of Louisiana taxpayers’ money will go to the Discovery Institute for their mendacious ‘textbooks,’ then another cartload will go into the pockets of lawyers to defend the inevitable challenge to the law in federal courts, which will inevitably be successful, as they always are, and should be.” Like Leshner as well as The New York Times editorial board, Derbyshire called on Jindal to veto the bill, writing, “Veto this bill, Gov. Jindal, or explain to Louisiana taxpayers the pointless waste of public money that will inevitably ensue from your signing it.”
Barbara Forrest, a member of NCSE’s board of directors and of the Louisiana Coalition for Science, was quoted in a story from the Associated Press (June 27, 2008) as expressing her concern that, now that SB 733 is law, “Any school board can permit any teacher to put any type of creationist supplement into a classroom and use it until they get caught.” Addressing the supporters of the bill in a June 27, 2008, press release, Louisiana Citizens for Science warned, “We intend to hold you to your public assertions that no creationist materials will be used in our children’s science classes and that no religious concepts will be presented to our children as science.” The group also offered its support for students, teachers, and parents concerned with the integrity of science education.
The bill’s opponents say that they are ready to take action should such problems arise. “We’re known for suing school boards when we need to do so and we won’t shy away from doing that if that’s what we need to do this case,” Marjorie Esman, the executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, told WWL-TV (June 24, 2008). And the Reverend Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, took a firm stance in a press release (June 27, 2008): “Let me state clearly and upfront that any attempts to use this law to sneak religion into public schools through the back door will not be tolerated. I call on all concerned residents of Louisiana to help us make sure that public schools educate, not indoctrinate.”