A 19-year-old activist named Zack Kopplin is leading the charge against a Louisiana law that allows creationism to be taught in public schools.
Seven states in the U.S. have laws on the books that require students in public schools to “critically analyze key aspects of evolutionary theory,” according to the Discovery Institute, which is most famous for backing intelligent design, a pseudoscientific brand of creationism. Two states, including Louisiana, also have laws that allow teachers to bring in outside materials to critique subjects.
The Louisiana Science Education Act, enacted in 2008, specifically names evolution among the topics singled out for supplemental critiques, along with global warming and cloning.
“You don't need a law to teach critical thinking,” Kopplin said on MSNBC’s ‘Hardball’ in June 2012. “That's what science is. You need a law to teach creationism.”
Kopplin has already advocated two bills to repeal the LSEA, with plans for a third in the next few months. He has the backing of 78 Nobel laureates, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and many others.
The 19-year-old, now studying at Rice University in Houston, is also scrutinizing Louisiana’s school voucher program. Many of the programs funded by public money are private religious schools that teach creationism, he says.
A June 2012 report from AlterNet outlined some of the more outrageous claims made in the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, including a science textbook that teaches that the fictional Loch Ness Monster in Scotland exists and disproves evolution.
"These schools have every right to teach whatever they want — no matter how much I disagree with it — as long as they are fully private," Kopplin said in an interview with the website io9. "But when they take public money through vouchers, these schools need to be accountable to the public in the same way that public schools are and they must abide by the same rules."
Kopplin’s effort to repeal the LSEA is just the latest round in the fight over evolution in U.S. public schools. One of the more pitched battles in this struggle started in 2004, when the school district in Dover, Pa., required intelligent design to be presented as an alternative to evolution.
Eleven parents sued the school district. The resulting case, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, became a hotbed of media attention, akin to the “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925.
Judge John E. Jones, a conservative Republican, ruled in December 2005 that the Dover school board’s intelligent design policy was unconstitutional.
“In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science,” Jones wrote in his opinion. “We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.”