Louisiana's state senate unanimously voted to pass a landmark academic freedom bill that would protect the right of teachers to discuss scientific theories supporting and critiquing evolution.
"This is great news for the science teachers in public school classrooms in Louisiana, and it's great news for science education in the whole State of Louisiana," said Wade Warren, professor of Biology and Cavanaugh Chair in Biology at Louisiana College, according to the U.S. think tank Discovery Institute. "Not all DNA and fossil evidence support a Darwinian view of life. This bill gives teeth to the freedom of a public school science teacher to ask their students to objectively analyze the scientific data."
The state senate on Monday approved the Louisiana Science Education Act 36-0 after the bill passed the House of Representatives last week with a 94-3 vote. The bill encourages "critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."
Teachers would also be allowed to use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students "understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner."
As the bill awaits final approval by Gov. Bobby Jindal, opponents are protesting the measure, claiming it is a "disguised attempt" to get intelligent design and creationism into public school science classes, as the Louisiana Coalition for Science alleges.
Alan Lesher, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest scientific society, challenged the academic bill, saying it implies there is a controversy about evolution among scientists.
"But there is virtually no controversy about evolution among the overwhelming majority of researchers," Lesher, also executive publisher of Science journal, wrote earlier. "The science of evolution underpins all of modern biology and is supported by tens of thousands of scientific studies in fields that include cosmology, geology, paleontology, genetics and other biological specialties."
Lesher also noted that the U.S. Supreme Court already declared a Louisiana "creation science" law unconstitutional in 1987.
As the academic freedom bill made its way through the house and senate this month, the Discovery Institute, which advocates intelligent design, has cautioned against "false claims" that the academic freedom bill would permit the use of religious materials in science classes.
The measure specifically states that it "shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion."
Opponents at the Louisiana Coalition for Science still say the proposed law is in clear violation of the Establishment Clause contained in the Constitution, which prohibits sectarian doctrine, and that the aforementioned disclaimer "sidesteps" that violation.
Casey Luskin, an attorney and program officer for public policy and legal affairs at Discovery Institute, defended the bill's constitutionality, noting that "the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that it is permissible for schools to teach scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories."