Louisiana High Court Upholds Creationism Law
The Louisiana Supreme Court last week upheld the right of the state legislature to require schools to teach the theory of "creation science" along with "evolution science." A federal court will now decide whether such a course of study would violate the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause.
In its 5-to-4 decision, the court ruled that the state legislature did not usurp the authority of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (bese) when it required that all schools present a "balanced treatment" of creationism and evolution.
But the state court did not consider the issue originally raised in the case--whether creationism is a religious doctrine and whether, by promoting it, the legislature violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The case will now be returned to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, where the challenge to the creationism law was originally filed.
Observers said the court's decision eventually could have a greater impact on the state's governance of education than on the creationism controversy.
David Hamilton, the counsel for the state department of education, said the decision could encourage the legislature to exercise authority over areas of education policy in which it has little expertise. That, he said, would violate the intent of the state constitution to place education in the hands of experts.
Martha Kegal, who heads the office of the American Civil Liberties Union in Louisiana, said she was "disappointed" with the decision but confident that the federal court would overturn the 1981 law as a violation of the Constitution's requirement of a separation of church and state.
State Board 'Realigned'
The case stems from a 1981 suit filed in the federal district court by an array of groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union.
The state board for elementary and secondary education, originally a defendant in the suit, subsequently "realigned" itself in opposition to the law. The board claimed that the law usurped the authority for education given it under the state constitution.
U.S. District Judge Adrian Duplantier ruled that the law violated the state constitution, but did not address the church-state controversy originally addressed by the suit. The defendants appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which ordered the state su-preme court to decide the state-constitution issue.
The Louisiana constitution, adopted in 1974, states that the legislature "shall provide for" a public-education system in the state. The constitution states that the bese "shall supervise and control" the state's education system.
In the majority opinion, Justice Pascal F. Calogero Jr. wrote that the authority of the bese was limited in the state constitution.
"It is a symbiotic relationship in which neither the legislature nor bese has exclusive authority over public elementary and secondary education," the decision states. "However, ... in a contest between the two, bese's supervision and control must yield to the legislative will as expressed by the elected representatives of the people."
In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice John A. Dixon Jr. questioned whether the legislature acted properly regardless of whether it had the authority to mandate a "course of study" for Louisiana schools.
Chief Justice Dixon wrote that, "in general," he agreed with the majority's conclusion that the legislature has authority over the course of study mandated for the state's public-education system. But he said: "From all that I have read in the past, 'creation science' is a religious doctrine, not a course of study."