The Louisiana state Senate Education Committee rejected a move to repeal the state's Science Education Act on Wednesday, handing a defeat to opponents who have criticized the law for essentially allowing the teaching of creationism in science class.
Under the law, public school teachers are permitted to introduce "supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner." While the Science Education Act says teachers may not "promote any religious doctrine," it contains no specific ban on the teaching of creationism. Teachers and local school boards also aren't required to obtain prior approval from the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education before introducing supplemental material, the Associated Press reports.
Opponents -- who have tried and failed to repeal the law in years past -- argue that it intentionally provides a loophole for teaching creationism and encouraging skepticism about scientific subjects such as cloning and global warming. Supporters counter that there haven't been any specific complaints of questionable materials being introduced into Louisiana classrooms.
The repeal effort was led by Zack Kopplin, a Rice University student from Baton Rouge, La., who, with the support of more than 70 Nobel Prize-winning scientists, argued that the law constitutes a risk for Louisiana and its schoolchildren. In a recent column in the UK's Guardian, Kopplin cited discussions with Louisianans from a range of fields who said the Science Education Act was stunting the educational process for students and perpetuating an anti-science culture that has already made businesses and tourists more hesitant to invest in the state.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) supports the law, however, going as far as to say last month that he was fine with public schools teaching students about creationism or intelligent design and letting them make up their own minds whether those theories trumped evolution.
Witnesses supporting the Science Education Act made similar arguments before the state Senate committee on Wednesday, maintaining that teaching alternatives to scientifically accepted theories didn't make the state anti-science. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that some lawmakers also offered personal experiences to contend that the classroom needed to be open to all viewpoints:
Sen. Elbert Guillory, D-Opelousas, 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.
The Times-Picayune also reports that after the committee effectively killed the repeal bill by deferring it, the panel voted to advance a bill that would make it easier for teachers to introduce religiously based materials into their classrooms by scaling back governmental oversight of textbooks and other school materials.