The first state law passed to protect public school teachers who teach students to think critically about controversial scientific topics survived its first challenge last month in Louisiana. The Senate Education Committee voted 5-1 to kill a bill intended to repeal the (2008) Louisiana Science Education Act, which permits teachers to use supplemental materials in addition to state-approved textbooks for topics such as evolution, global warming and cloning.
The repeal bill was initiated by a recent high school graduate who said he believed Louisiana's law "makes it harder for Louisiana students to get cutting-edge science-based jobs" after they graduate because companies would not "trust our science education." Repeal supporters made much of a letter signed by 43 Nobel laureates stating that the Louisiana law creates a pathway to teach creationism and other nonscientific ideas. That assertion ignored the fact that the Louisiana law explicitly prohibits promotion of any religious doctrine or "discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion."
On the other hand, a Louisiana College biology professor presented a letter signed by 15 scientists who asserted that the repeal effort "confuses the issue" by mislabeling scientific critique of evolution as creationism. These scientists warned that if science educators follow the approach of the critics of Louisiana's law, "science education will become science indoctrination." A retired judge and a law professor advised that there are no constitutional grounds for repealing the Louisiana law because both the language and intent of the law pass constitutional muster. Louisiana's victory for academic freedom and free scientific inquiry is important because it has the potential to embolden other states to adopt similar laws. Since January, legislators in nine states have proposed bills that promote critical analysis of evolutionary theory while ensuring academic freedom regarding contentious scientific issues.
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