Proponents of creation science have again been rebuffed in their drive to have thinly disguised biblical creation taught as natural science in US public schools.
Judge Frank Polozola of the federal district court at Baton Rouge has thrown out a lawsuit that aimed to force such teaching to begin in Louisiana. The state has delayed enforcement of its controversial creation-science law requiring such teaching pending a court test of its constitutionality. Judge Polozola's ruling June 28 clears the way for such a test in the New Orleans federal district court , where a suit challenging the law now can proceed. It was filed a day after the Baton Rouge suit, which then had priority.
Last year Louisiana's attorney general, together with some of the creationists, tried to preempt the issue of constitutionality. The suit they filed at Baton Rouge sought to have the Louisiana law declared constitutional, and asked that the state's Department of Education be ordered to begin enforcing the Louisiana law. This is the suit which Judge Polozola now has dismissed, saying his court lacks jurisdiction.
''The light is beginning to shine through,'' says Jack Novik, counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU represents the coalition, including Louisiana's Department of Education, that brought the New Orleans suit. Mr. Novik says the coalition expects to win on the constitutional question. Indeed, with a similar law already declared unconstitutional in Arkansas, the ACLU hopes the judge in New Orleans will issue a summary judgment. Were the judge to do this, declaring the Louisiana law unconstitutional, the suit would not even come to trial.
Were the Louisiana law to be struck down, the drive to have creation science taught in public schools would be severely blunted. Mr. Novik says that, in his judgement, no other state would then enact a state-wide creation-science law.
The Arkansas decision has already had a chilling effect on such legislation. A number of creation-science bills have withered since federal Judge William Overton handed down his strongly worded ruling Jan. 5. A Mississippi bill was passed by the Senate, but died in the House education committee. In Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, and West Virginia, bills never reached the legislative floor. Bills in Arizona, Florida, South Carolina, and South Dakota were withdrawn before reaching committee stage.
Proponents of such legislation appear to be waiting for a decision on the Louisiana law - a decision whose timing is uncertain.
Meanwhile, delegates to the convention of the United Presbyterian Church U.S.A. in Hartford, Conn., voted June 29 to condemn efforts to legislate the teaching of creationism in public schools. ''The state cannot legislate the establishment of religion in a public domain,'' the resolution stated. It added that efforts to promote the teaching of creation science are a cover-up ''for a religious crusade.''
Creationists have also suffered a setback on a different front, where they had appeared to be winning - that of school textbooks. Some textbook publishers , responding to ''market place pressures,'' have soft-pedaled evolution in biology texts, or avoided mentioning it altogether, while giving some prominence to creation science. However, in late June the New York City Board of Education rejected three such texts for what it called inadequate treatment of evolution. It complained, in one instance, that a text ''. . . does not state that evolution is accepted by most scientists today, and presents special creation without characterizing it as a supernatural explanation that is outside the domain of science.''
If legislative efforts to inject creationism into science classrooms are abandoned, Mr. Novik says he expects creationism proponents to focus even more strongly on local school boards and textbook-selection committees. This is not a legal arena, he notes. The issues will include publishers' profits and of educational policy. Thus, he explains, there is little that an organization such as the ACLU could do to counter creationist pressures. However, the fact that the New York City Board of Education now has rejected textbooks with a creationist slant may signal new resistance to creationist demands in this area.