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article imageOp-Ed: Dear Louisiana — Creationism belongs in church, not in schools Special

By Megan Hamilton     Jun 6, 2015 in Science
Baton Rouge - When it comes to teaching evolution in Lousiana, educators and school officials are robbing students of a proper education in science.
And it almost seems like some teachers are crawling out of the woodwork to do this.
In an article for Slate, Zack Kopplin writes that Louisiana public school students might not "ever learn about evolution. For some Louisiana public school students, their science textbook is the Bible, and in biology class they read the Book of Genesis to learn the 'creation point of view.'"
How sad that these students don't get to learn how evolution has shaped all living things, including us. How sad that they may never learn of history we shared with other species of humans before they became extinct.
No. Instead, there are teachers like Shawna Creamer. Oh, she's a science teacher alright--at Airline High School, in Bossier Parish, and, as Kopplin writes, she sent an email to Jason Rowland, the school's principal. She informed him of which class periods she would use to teach creationism.
Then there's biology teacher Michael Stacy, praised by assistant principal Doug Scott for discussing "evolution and creationism in a full spectrum of thought," he wrote. "Thank you for the rich content as you bring various sources to bear in your curriculum."
Well, I'll tell you what. I went to a christian school. The biology teacher had dead rabbits, dead pocket gophers, dead rats and mice, and lots of dead squirrels. He told us seventh-graders that if we imagined someone of the opposite sex naked that we were terrible sinners. That we were just as guilty as being with that person, naked. I don't know what he would have thought about gay people being naked, he probably would have had an aneurysm.
He told us animals don't go to heaven; which depressed me for weeks after that.
So in that class, what did I learn?
I was a sinner. Check.
Animals don't go to heaven. Check.
So what did I really learn about biology? With all those poor dead animals in the classroom, what did I learn? Nothing. Not. One. Thing.
As I have known Kopplin now for a while, I asked him why so many teachers in Louisiana are teaching creationism.
He says he has no idea how so many high school biology teachers wound up teaching creationism in Louisiana.
"We don't actually have an accurate count across the whole state," he wrote. "We do know about 13 percent of teachers across the country are teaching creationism, and the Louisiana Science Education Act, a creationism law, which shifts the liability from the teacher to the state for teaching creationism, and we know Louisiana teachers have been teaching creationism under the law."
Cindy Tolliver, the one teacher who actually taught evolution as a fact, got her hands slapped for having the temerity to do so, when a parent complained to Rowland that Tolliver was "pushing her twisted religious beliefs onto the class." Rowland responded with a stern "I can assure you this will not happen again."
Kopplin has been fighting for the repeal of the poorly-named Louisiana Science Education Act since 2011. He notes that when creationism is taught in school, it takes away from other crucial studies that would otherwise help give students a stronger foothold to prepare them for college. This is why he wants the LSEA repealed, and he's been helped by Louisiana Senator Karen Carter Peterson and has received support from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and 75 Nobel Laureate scientists.
When the LSEA was passed by the state legislature in 2008, it permitted science teachers to use supplemental materials to "critique" evolution, and this, he wrote for Slate, opens a backdoor which the teachers are using to teach creationism. The lessons are allowed under the LSEA, even though they are illegal under federal law.
"We know that one in eight high school biology teachers advocate for creationism, even though it's unconstitutional," Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education said. "These emails make clear that many teachers are interpreting the Louisiana Science Education Act as allowing such unconstitutional and scientifically-misleading questions."
"It's just going to take a brave student to sue the state," Kopplin told me.
Legislators have also used the act to coerce school districts into teaching creationism, he wrote for Slate. State Representative Thomas Carmody, a co-sponsor of the LSEA, barraged the Bossier Parish school district to find out how the district was complying with the law.
"I appreciate your expediting the confirmation of your district's effort to comply with the stipulations outlined in the Louisiana Science Education Act," he wrote.
Kopplin also noted that creationism is also being taught in Caddo Parish schools. One fifth-grade teacher at Caddo's Eden Gardens Magnet School, Charlotte Hinson, wrote a column for the Shreveport Times.
"My job is to present both [evolution and creationism] because "God made science."
In an email to a Bossier teacher, Hinson said that she was going to keep on teaching creationism, even though she'd received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union warning her against teaching it. She claimed she had the support of local lawyers, her principal, and the school board. The principal and the school board "reminded me I did nothing wrong," she wrote. "Times are getting harder and harder ... I feel the end is near. Be blessed!!!"
With these emails, it's entirely clear that Louisiana school districts are violating the law all the time, Kopplin writes. Nevertheless, the Legislature still stubbornly refuses to repeal the LSEA. As the emails show, the law is being used systematically to teach creationism in public schools and it puts Louisiana on a crash course with a First Amendment lawsuit.
Kopplin also talked to Andrew Seidel, a lawyer for the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). The organization litigates separation of church and state cases, in regards to the legal situation surrounding the law.
"It was clear when the [Science Education Act] was passed that it was just another shameful attempt to circumvent the First Amendment," Seidel told Kopplin. Then warned teachers against teaching creationism, and added:
"No state law, including the Louisiana Science Education Act, can shield public schools and public school teachers from liability for violating the U.S. Constitution."
Kopplin noted that several separation of church and state organizations, including the FFRF and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are keeping an eye on the goings-on.
Fortunately, creationism can be wiped out of the school curriculum. Once again, all it would take is for one Louisiana parent or student to sue the state for endorsing religion in public school, and teaching creationism would illegal again.
Sadly, the way it is now, Genesis is being taught as science, and fairy tales are alive and well in Louisiana classrooms.
Note: Zack Kopplin can be heard defending science in the Real Time With Bill Maher clip above and the following video is an interview with Bill Moyers.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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