The Louisiana Senate last week voted 21 to 16 to approve a bill to repeal a two-year-old law that requires equal treatment of creationism and evolution in science curricula.
The bill now proceeds to the House, where it is expected to be hotly debated. "[House] legislators are getting hundreds of calls in opposition to the bill,” said Senator Sydney Nelson, sponsor of the bill to repeal the equal-treatment law.
The law has been tied up in court battles since 1981 and has not yet been implemented.
Last year, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the state legislature has the authority to require the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (bese) to mandate that all schools present a “balanced treatment” of the creationist and evolutionary viewpoints.
A ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana is expected by the end of the year on whether such a course of study violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against the establishment of religion. (See Education Week, Oct. 26, 1983.)
If Senator Nelson’s repeal bill passes in the legislature and is approved by the governor, the court case would be moot.
“Requiring balanced treatment is not a fair way to approach any scientific question,” according to Senator Nelson. “The scientific-creationism law is an attempt to put a religious theory or belief into the science class.”
Louisiana is the only state that has a law mandating the teaching of creationism alongside instruction in evolution, according to Senator Nelson.
Senator Nelson’s bill has received widespread support from education, religious, and community groups in Louisiana, some of whom testified before the Senate Education Committee, which approved the bill earlier this month.
Among the supporters, Senator Nelson said, are the Louisiana School Boards Association, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, and state biology and science teachers’ groups.
Among the opponents of the bill, according to Senator Nelson, are several fundamentalist religious groups, none of which testified against the bill before the Senate Education Committee. But, Senator Nelson pointed out, “the opposition has been mounting tremendous telephone and personal-contact [efforts]” in an attempt to persuade6supporters to vote against the bill.
The bese has not indicated its position on Senator Nelson’s bill.
Implementation Cost High
If the bill to repeal the equal-treatment law fails, Senator Nelson noted, the cost of implementing the law would be substantial. According to a cost analysis by the legislature’s fiscal office, the state could spend $250,000 to $300,000 in continued litigation. If the state loses, plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees could amount to as much as $1 million. And if the law is not repealed, Senator Nelson said, local school districts could spend an estimated $7.3 million to purchase new textbooks and retrain teachers.
“It’s a financial burden to the state to have to implement it,” Senator Nelson said.
A version of this article appeared in the May 30, 1984 edition of Education Week as Louisiana Senate Votes Repeal of Creation Law