John G. West Political Scientist and Cultural Critic

Questions and Answers about the Proposed Louisiana Science Education Act

Published at Evolution News

On Wednesday, the Louisiana House of Representatives passed the Louisiana Science Education Act, which now goes to the state Senate for final approval. Critics are already in overdrive trying to misrepresent the proposed law. Here is a quick guide to the facts.

What would the Louisiana Science Education Act actually do?

Two main things:

  1. Upon the request of a local school board, the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would be required to “allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” Assistance from the State Board in this area would “include support and guidance for teachers regarding effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review scientific theories being studied.”
  2. School districts could permit teachers to “use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.” But teachers using supplemental resources must first “teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system,” and the State Board of Education would reserve the right to veto any inappropriate supplemental materials.

Why is the law needed?

For two reasons. First, around the country, science teachers are being harassed, intimidated, and sometimes fired for trying to present scientific evidence critical of Darwinian theory along with the evidence that supports it. Second, many school administrators and teachers are fearful or confused about what is legally allowed when teaching about controversial scientific issues like evolution. The Louisiana Science Education Act clarifies what teachers may be allowed to do.

Would the law allow the teaching of creationism or other religious beliefs?

Absolutely not. Section 1D of the law clearly states that the law “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.”

Would the law allow teachers to teach whatever they want in the classroom?

No. Teachers would still be required to teach according to state and local science standards. But under the law, a school district could permit a teacher to present additional scientific evidence, analysis, and critiques regarding topics already in the approved curriculum.

But wouldn’t the law allow teachers to present wacky non-scientific evidence or religious arguments?

No. Teachers are still required to follow the standard curriculum, and school districts would still need to authorize what teachers are doing in order for the law to come into operation. Moreover, any teaching or supplemental instructional materials would have to be consistent with the prohibition of the promotion of religion in Section 1D of the bill. Finally, any inappropriate instructional materials could be disallowed under the bill by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Would this law be unconstitutional?

No. The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that it is permissible for schools to teach “scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories” (Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578), and even groups like the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have conceded that “any genuinely scientific evidence for or against any explanation of life may be taught.” In addition, it should be noted that at least nine states currently have state or local policies that protect, encourage, and sometimes even require teachers to discuss the scientific evidence for and against Darwinian evolution. None have been challenged in court as unconstitutional.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.
Discovery Institute