Concerned that religion might find its way into Louisiana's science classrooms, the ACLU of Louisiana, with support from the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, has filed comments with the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education regarding proposed regulations for implementing the "Louisiana Science Education Act." The Act authorizes science teachers to use supplemental instructional materials not approved by the State purportedly to help students foster critical thinking skills regarding various "controversial" subjects, such as evolution and global warming. Louisiana enacted the law last year over vigorous objections from the ACLU and other civil-rights and science-education advocates who were concerned that the measure would allow teachers and local school boards to inject "creationism," "intelligent design," or other religiously based, anti-evolution concepts into the science curriculum. The ACLU's comments argue that, because of past efforts to promote creationism and its progeny in Louisiana - all of which have been struck down by the federal courts - it is especially important to ensure that the Act be implemented in a way that does not improperly promote religion.
Specifically, the ACLU urges the State Board to restore protections present in earlier drafts of the regulations requiring that religious beliefs "not be advanced under the guise of encouraging critical thinking" and prohibiting the use of "materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind." These key provisions were removed from the final version of the regulations. In addition, the ACLU seeks clarification of the procedures for challenging supplemental materials brought into the classroom to ensure that schoolchildren and parents will not be unduly burdened in asserting their constitutional rights.
ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman explained: "For the Science Education Act to remain in keeping with the law, it must not allow religion into the public school classrooms. BESE has a duty to ensure that Louisiana students receive public educations free of religious doctrine."
Daniel Mach, Director of Litigation for the Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, added: "The regulations, as they currently stand, could betray the trust of millions of Louisiana families who make use of the public schools with the understanding that parents, not schools, have the right to direct the religious upbringing of their children. The ACLU's comments offer sound advice to ensure that the Louisiana Science Education Act is implemented in a manner that honors and respects this tradition."