Louisiana’s state legislature — the legislature that the Supreme Court slapped down in 1987 for trying to introduce religion into science classes in Edwards v. Aguillard — rushed through a bill drafted by the deaf-to-the-law Discovery Institute which purports on its face to make it legal for Louisiana science teachers to teach creationism, intelligent design, tarot card reading, UFO-ism, or any other crank science that the teacher feels compelled to offer.
Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-Mars, rushed to sign the brain-sucker into law, in his ambitious quest to get John McCain to name him as the nominee for vice president. It appears on the surface that Jindal’s national political aspirations will have to wait, but the law he signed requires Louisiana’s school districts to be ready when the students come back in the next few weeks, to do whatever it is they are going to do about creationism and other crank science.
Discovery Institute minions have been hawking creationism wares, and other creationists have offered to put Genesis into the science curriculum — but the law does not authorize those actions or wares itself. Instead, it passes the judgment to local school boards, sort of.
“Sort of.” Words that make a litigator’s heart flutter when talking about to-be-implemented laws! You’d think that, with all the money the Discovery Institute spends to entice legislators and school board members to poke their noses into matters they do not know, DI could spend a few thousands of dollars to get a competent legislative law drafter to draft a workable law. The cheapskates always pay more, Click and Clack say, and here’s another case to prove the point. It would have been difficult to intentionally write a law better intended to get local school boards sued.
A few of us noted the law does not indemnify local school districts against lawsuits if they goof and put religion into science classes. This is important, because the law requires local school districts to step up to the line and have a policy in place by the start of this school year. Which means, if the district doesn’t have the policy written out now, they’re late.
Tony Whitson at Curricublog spent time this summer pondering exactly how the law works, what it requires, and who it requires to act. His analysis — that the law is litigation bait just waiting to snare a local school board, a real “Dover Trap” — is cool, hard, and chilling. Go read it at his blog.
Whitson recommends that the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education get an opinion from the state’s attorney general. This will not comply with the impossible and punishing deadline the legislature established, but it’s a much wiser stewardship of local monies, to try to avoid litigation. Tony wrote:
Taking stock of the situation: To summarize where things now stand, in light of everything above:
The law is by no means so benign as its promoters pretend. It will unleash all manner of chaotic mischief. On the other hand, there is a method to this madness, making it predictable that the perpetrators’ strategy will be to insinuate Exploring Evolution into the state’s (and then other states’) public schools.
BESE and the school districts cannot comply with the statute, which commands that
The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and each city, parish, or other local public school board shall adopt and promulgate the rules and regulations necessary to implement the provisions of this Section prior to the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year.
There are legal requirements (public notice, etc.) for adopting administrative rules for implementing legislation that make it impossible for that to be done by every state and district school board before the new school year begins.
So what can BESE do?
My suggestion is that BESE, at it’s meeting Tuesday, should move to request an opinion from the State Attorney General. They should ask him for an opion advising them, the district Boards of Education, and individual school principals, as to who will be responsible for the costs of defending against litigation for unconstitutional state promotion of religion in the use of supplemental materials. Presumably, if there’s a suit brought directly against BESE itself because of the substance of a text they have approved, then they would be defended by the AG’s office, on behalf of the state (like when the AG hired Wendell Bird as as special assistant for defending the state’s “Balanced Treatment” law). But will the AG commit his office to defending every district, every school, and every teacher whose use of “supplemental materials” is challenged for violation of the First Amendment?
Louisiana’s legislature set a trap for Louisiana science teachers and local school boards — whether intentionally or not is immaterial. Rather than authorize specific material for the curriculum, the new creationism law requires school boards to analyze materials to supplement the science curriculum. The law passes the buck to the local school boards.
So, Louisiana school board members now must become expert on science, and Constitutional law.
Rule of thumb: It costs a school board about $1 million every time they goof and put religion into science classrooms, in litigation costs alone. Louisiana’s legislature didn’t appropriate any money to compensate the school boards.
This law promises to entangle science educators and curriculum, and ensnare local school boards – all of which helps dumb down science achievement and prevent U.S. kids from getting the education they need to compete in a global economy. Alas.