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One Young Man’s Struggle against Louisiana’s Creationist Lobby

Zack Kopplin

January 17, 2013

Zack Kopplin

During the summer before my sophomore year of high school, the unthinkable happened. My Brown University Biology major and Rhodes Scholar Governor signed Louisiana’s creationism bill into law.

The misnamed and misguided Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) allows creationism to be snuck into public school science classes using unreviewed “supplemental textbooks” that are meant to “critique” science, like evolution and climate change, that in reality is widely accepted by the scientists but is controversial to Louisiana politicians.

That summer, I went to Connecticut to visit my family, and I was forced to explain this creationism law to my friends out of state who had read about it in the New York Times. I was embarrassed to be from Louisiana, and I was furious at the politicians who had done this, but I was fourteen years old. I didn’t have the know-how or courage to challenge state law, and I assumed someone else would do the heavy lifting to get rid of this terrible law. I didn’t learn how to raise my voice against the powerful creationism lobby in my state until I was seventeen.

When I became a senior in high school, I finally recognized that no one had launched a repeal of the LSEA and no one was going to. For my high school senior project, I decided I had to stand up and take on creationism in Louisiana. I partnered with Senator Karen Carter Peterson, who has now sponsored two bills to repeal the LSEA. We gathered the support of seventy-eight Nobel laureate scientists, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, many other major science organizations and prominent scientists, and even the New Orleans City Council. Over 70,000 people petitioned the Louisiana legislature to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act.

Despite this incredible support, the Louisiana legislature has kept the Louisiana Science Education Act, and worse, have decided to give millions more in taxpayer dollars to schools that teach creationism. At least twenty creationist schools have been funded this year by Louisiana’s now unconstitutional school voucher program. I investigated and discovered schools that teach that scientists are “sinful men” and that “the age of the Earth and other issues is that any theory that goes against God’s Word is in error.” I discovered a school that mandated in its handbook for students to “defend creationism” against “traditional scientific theory.” While the program has been declared unconstitutional, it is still continuing during an appeal, and the conservative State Supreme Court may declare the program constitutional and allow it to continue permanently.

Louisiana is addicted to creationism, and we need to speak up and act out to break this addiction. Please send letters to Louisiana’s legislators and Governor Bobby Jindal and remind them how vital it is to teach our students evolution. Remind them that teaching creationism is unconstitutional and suggest how scientists are much less likely to live and work in Louisiana, harming Louisiana institutions like the Pennington Biomedical Research Center and stifling the growth of the New Orleans Biodistrict. Most importantly, call your friends and family in Louisiana and tell them why it is vital they call their legislators and advocate for teaching evidence-based science.

Science denialism is a Louisiana problem, but it’s also an American problem. America needs an attitude adjustment when it comes to science. We have creationist school vouchers. Nearly 60 percent of American biology teachers are not teaching evolution properly. Almost half of Americans believe that the Earth was formed in the last 10,000 years. Tennessee has a creationism law based on Louisiana’s and other states may soon follow suit. A member of the U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee called evolution, embryology, and the big bang theory “lies straight from the pit of hell.” The Chairman of this same committee believes that climate change is a massive conspiracy created simply to increase science funding and has responded by attempting to cut off science funding instead. Another member of this committee suggested cutting down more trees as a measure to reduce global warming. Cuts to science funding could prevent the next computer or a successful manned mission to Mars.

We need to change the debate when it comes to science in Louisiana and nationwide. We must demand more funding for scientific research. We must demand that our students learn about evolution and climate change. We must step up and educate our friends and neighbors on how science works and why it is vital.

We all need to be brave and speak out for science. If you’re in Tennessee, lead a campaign to repeal your creationism law there. If you live in Montana testify against your creationism bill. If you’re in Texas, fight to prevent a creationist voucher program. No matter where you are, you can set up a meeting with your Congressperson and ask them to support more funding for basic research. If you’re in Louisiana, come join my fight against the Louisiana Science Education Act.

Zack Kopplin

Zack Kopplin is a student at Rice University and has led the repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act since high school. You can follow him on Facebook or @repealthelsea.