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U.S. Judge Overturns Louisiana Creationism Law

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A federal district judge, citing the state constitution, has struck down Louisiana's law requiring "balanced treatment" for "creation science" and "evolution science" in the state's public schools.

The case has been called "the decisive legal battle over creation-science in the public schools" by the California-based Institute for Creation Research, a creationist group that has helped raise money for legal expenses in the case.

The state last week filed a notice of appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, said Assistant Attorney General Patricia N. Bowers.

Louisiana was the only state in the nation with such a law. A federal judge in Arkansas ruled in January that a similar law in that state was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment's prohibition of state advancement of religion.

The Louisiana law, passed in 1981, was challenged in Aguillard v. David C. Treen on the grounds that it violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments by an array of plaintiffs including the American Civil Liberties Union (aclu).

However, U.S. District Judge Adrian Duplantier sidestepped federal constitutional questions by basing his Nov. 22 summary judgment on the 1974 Louisiana constitution.

The state constitutional issue was raised by the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which had ori-ginally been among the defendants in the case, but "realigned" itself in opposition to the law.

The board made that move after a federal judge in Baton Rouge dismissed a second suit in which proponents of the creationism law sought to have it declared constitutional in federal court, said John E. DiGiulio, an attorney who worked for the state board in the Aguillard case. (See Education Week, Aug. 18, 1982.)

Legislature's Authority

The issue posed by the board was: Does the state legislature have the authority to tell public schools what to teach?

Under the state constitution, the legislature is empowered to "establish and maintain" public schools, and the state board must "supervise and control" the schools.

The board's position, which the aclu supported, was that the Louisiana constitution granted the state board, and not the legislature, sole authority to require the teaching of a particular course of study.

Judge Duplantier agreed: "Even if the legislature has the authority to require that public schools teach a particular course, the legislature exceeded that authority by dictating to the public schools not only that a subject must be taught, but also how it must be taught.

"The Balanced Treatment Act does not merely establish a generalized course dealing with biology, it dictates the precise course content by requiring that 'creation science' be taught whenever evolution is."

The defeat in Arkansas and the setback in Louisiana have hampered creationists' legal activities in other states.

Jack D. Novik, assistant director of the aclu and one of the chief lawyers in the Louisiana case, said that so far the aclu has not found any states that are likely to consider "balanced-treatment" bills in their upcoming sessions. Mr. Novik said "the decision establishes that in Louisiana the legislature should stay out of the business of dictating curriculum content.

"Many states have adopted similar constitutional structures designed to remove education from the political arena," he continued.

"If in those states a creationism bill were passed, this decision would serve as a compelling precedent that the legislature had overstepped its bounds."

The suit that was dismissed prior to Aguillard was Keith v. Louisiana Department of Education. That suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge by the state attorney general, who was seeking to have the law declared constitutional. U.S. District Judge Frank Polozola said the suit belonged in a state, not federal, court.

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