FFRF puts Louisiana board on notice

Could a lawyer pressing a state-church separation case have a better ally than David Tate? Maybe not.

At a July 22 meeting of the Livingston Parish [La.] School Board, member David Tate said this: “We let them teach evolution to our children, but I think all of us sitting up here on this School Board believe in creationism. Why can’t we get someone with religious beliefs to teach creationism?”

The comment came after the district’s curriculum director outlined the 2009 Louisiana Science Education Act, which says, in part, “A teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique and review scientific theories.”

Opponents of the law see it as opening the back door just enough to let creationism slip in. After the curriculum director’s presentation, two board members said they agreed with Tate. Three area residents didn’t and contacted FFRF after the board meeting. On their behalf, FFRF Attorney Rebecca Markert wrote a letter of complaint Aug. 3 to the district.

“It is unconstitutional for a public school board to include creationism in the curriculum,” Markert said, citing a U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down an older Louisiania law allowing “creation science” to be taught. The new law “would not fare any better from a constitutional standpoint,” she said.

Markert noted that board members’ positive reaction to Tate’s proposal made it clear that “considering the addition of creationism to the school district science curriculum is fueled by religious motives.”

While the Foundation was researching the case, the issue came up again in an Aug. 1 story in the Baton Rouge Advocate about potential legal ramifications. Tate: “We don’t want  litigation, but why not take a stand for Jesus and risk litigation?”

Tate added, “Creationism is another thought of how things came into being. Give every theory due time. We don’t all have to believe the same thing.”

The Advocate reported that board President Keith Martin said a staff committee studying the issue won’t finish its report before the fall term. “We have decided not to try to hurry up and rush something in for this year,” Martin said.

Freedom From Religion Foundation