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Teaching creationism: Louisiana law that skirts US ban survives challenge

The Louisiana law allows teaching contrary to evolution on the grounds it promotes critical thinking, a proposition ridiculed by scientists. Similar legislation is being debated in other states.

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The successful defense last week of a three-year-old Louisiana law is casting a spotlight on how conservative groups are seeking to circumvent a federal ban on the teaching of creationism in public schools.

The Louisiana Science Education Act, which allows teaching contrary to science on the grounds it promotes critical thinking, is increasingly serving as an inspiration to religious conservatives in other states. Its defenders decry the “censorship” of nonscientific ideas and advocate allowing teachers to teach “both sides” on certain scientific theories.

So far in 2011, similarly worded legislation was introduced in Florida, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, Oklahoma and New Mexico, but all failed at the committee stage. However, a bill in Tennessee passed the state House in early April and is awaiting a Senate vote in the 2012 session.

In Louisiana, the challenge to the Science Education Act was defeated last Thursday in the Senate Education Committee by a 5-to-1 vote. State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D), who authored the bill to repeal the 2008 law, said she received letters of support from more than 40 Nobel Prize-winning scientists.

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