The Discovery Institute, the LA Family Forum, and the "LA Science Education Act" UPDATED
Barbara Forrest printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Jun 26, 2008 at 06:09:20 PM EST
Louisiana has become the latest target of the Discovery Institute, the Seattle think tank whose "Wedge Strategy" for getting intelligent design (ID) creationism into public school science classes was thoroughly discredited in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District (2005). The Discovery Institute has teamed up with the LA Family Forum, the Louisiana affiliate of Focus on the Family, to promote a stealth creationism bill in the guise of "academic freedom" legislation. The bill sailed through the Louisiana legislature and now awaits action by Gov. Bobby Jindal. [promote on Digg 1 and 2]
The stealth-creationist SB 733, the "Louisiana Science Education Act," which in its pre-amended version as SB 561 was entitled the "LA Academic Freedom Act," received final passage in the Louisiana legislature on June 16, 2008, and is now (June 26) on Gov. Bobby Jindal's desk. The governor can either sign it, allow it to become law without his signature, or veto it. Gov. Jindal, who in his June 15 appearance on Face the Nation reiterated his previously voiced support for teaching intelligent design (ID) creationism, is expected to sign the bill. At the behest of the LA Coalition for Science, e-mail petitioners from across the country and national scientific organizations have urged him to veto it. Both the New York Times and National Review columnist John Derbyshire have also publicly called for Jindal to veto the bill. Since Louisiana's passage of SB 733 could be a bellwether for such "academic freedom" legislation, advocates for science education and church-and-state separation in other states had better start preparing now.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Ben Nevers (Bogalusa, LA), who has a history of promoting creationist legislation. In 2003, he introduced his unsuccessful HCR 50 (pdf), which encouraged school systems to "refrain from purchasing textbooks that do not present a balanced view of the various theories relative to the origin of life but rather refer to one theory as proven fact." Like SB 733, this measure was also a stealth creationist bill that would ostensibly promote "critical thinking."

Nevers introduced SB 733 on behalf of the LA Family Forum (LFF), the Louisiana affiliate of Focus on the Family. However, the fact that this bill is the fruit of the collaboration between the LFF and the Discovery Institute (DI), a Seattle think tank that serves as command center of the ID creationist movement, gives this bill national implications. Virtually every significant creationism outbreak in the United States for almost the last decade has been the product of DI's aggressive execution of its "Wedge Strategy" for getting ID into public school science classes. (See Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross, Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, 2007.) Typically, as in previous ID flare-ups in Kansas and Ohio, DI operatives arrive on the scene once pro-ID efforts are well under way, assuming a high public profile after the initial spadework has been done by state or local Religious Right groups. DI has run true to form in Louisiana, where its proxy, the LFF, has promoted creationism -- both young-earth and ID (pdf) -- for years in preparation for this year's targeting of Louisiana.

The LFF was founded in 1999 by former Louisiana legislator Tony Perkins, who now heads the Family Research Council (FRC); Rev. Gene Mills, the current LFF executive director; and a retired Baton Rouge City Court judge, Darrell White, who is currently an LFF "consultant." The organization lobbies the Louisiana legislature virtually incessantly. The FRC website includes a page about the LFF that describes both its public policy aims and its use of religious operatives to advance them. The LFF seeks to "present biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family through communication, research and networking," with the aim of getting "the conservative voting community more actively involved in the political process." According to the FRC, "Louisiana Family Forum's staff, resource council members, and a multitude of pastors have steadily altered a volatile political landscape," and clergy who comprise the LFF's Pastors Resource Council "have taken a key role as 'goodwill' ambassadors during Louisiana's legislative sessions." The FRC description also accurately reflects the LFF's current influence: "Ten years on, Louisiana legislators . . . have come to rely on the Louisiana Family Forum." The fact that the LFF's "Legislative Scorecard reports annually on how each Louisiana legislator votes on key family issues" -- along with the fact that the scorecards are prominently featured on the LFF's main web page -- may help explain that influence.

It is probably not an exaggeration to say that the majority of Louisiana legislators support the LFF's agenda, and that those who do not support it have had the "fear of the Lord" put into them, knowing what they will face politically in the next election if they cross the LFF. One very telling piece of evidence for this is the fact that not a single Louisiana public official anywhere in the state, either elected or appointed, has so far been willing to speak out against SB 733 and in favor of good science education. When Louisiana scientists and educators from public schools and universities testified against SB 733 before both the House and Senate Education Committees, they had no vocal defenders on either committee and were virtually ignored during the periods in which legislators were allowed to question the witnesses. (Three House members, one of whom was on the House Education Committee, later voted against the bill on the House floor but offered no statements or questions during the vote.)

With respect to socially conservative issues, the LFF, in a de facto sense, practically runs the Louisiana legislature, wielding influence that is disproportionate to its small staff. Legislative demographics have converged with the election of Bobby Jindal to put considerable wind in the LFF's sails. As the April 20, 2008, Monroe, LA, News Star noted, "the new Legislature is probably the most conservative Louisiana has had since Reconstruction, observers say, and it's possibly the most religious." Mills observed that "he has found the new Legislature 'very family and faith friendly' with 'an acute sense of the need to protect basic values.'" The LFF has also maintains a close alliance with Gov. Jindal, as Adam Nossiter noted in the June 2, 2008, New York Times: "At the group's modest offices here [in Baton Rouge], Mr. Jindal is seen as practically one of the family."

The LFF has worked hard at cultivating this relationship with the governor. The organization threw a December 12, 2007, Christmas gala at Louisiana's Old Capitol ostensibly to honor outgoing Gov. Kathleen Blanco and several former governors, along with the incoming Jindal. Jindal, however, was the star of the evening, as the LFF's YouTube video of the event makes clear. On inauguration day, Jindal, who has made his conservative religious views an integral part of his public persona, was also feted at an early-morning prayer breakfast hosted by the  Louisiana Renewal Project (LRP), with the participation of the LFF. Although, according to the Baptist Message, which reported on the event (January 10 and January 14, 2008), the LRP is not formally associated with the LFF, Mills publicized the event through his contacts. He describes the LRP as "a reform effort whereby a number of pastors across the state have lent their influence to assist policy makers in honoring faith and family traditions." One pastor who attended described what it felt like to be at this event in honor of Jindal:  "The pastors prayer breakfast felt similar in spirit to the coronation of David as the Old Testament King of Israel, said Waylon Bailey, pastor of First Covington."

The LFF had good reason to cultivate Jindal as an ally in light of their plan to advance creationist legislation. Jindal had publicly voiced his support for teaching creationism on at least two occasions prior to his election as governor. Moreover, given the roster of his prayer breakfast companions, the governor's movement in this circle of influential Religious Right operatives could be interpreted as a signal of his receptiveness to the creationist legislation that the LFF asked Nevers to introduce less than three months after his inauguration. The LFF's January 8, 2008, weekly Family Facts newsletter announced that Jindal "will be accompanied [at the prayer breakfast] by Historian David Barton, Texas' Governor Rick Perry and Dr. Laurence White."

Perry has helped to advance creationism in Texas by appointing dentist Don McLeroy, an avowed creationist and DI ally, as chair of the Texas Board of Education, where McLeroy and his like-minded fellows on the board are attempting to wreak havoc on state education standards in both reading and science. (See the Texas Freedom Network's 2008 report, The State Board of Education: Dragging Texas Schools into the Culture Wars. [pdf]) White is on the board of the Niemoller Foundation, a Texas 501(c)3 non-profit that is currently the object of a request by the Texas Freedom Network that the IRS investigate its expenditure of funds for political campaign activities by the Texas Restoration Project, which uses ministers as political partisans. (Perry's and White's attendance at Jindal's prayer breakfast suggests that the LRP may be functioning in a similar way.)

Barton founded Wallbuilders, an organization whose "goal is to exert a direct and positive influence in government, education, and the family by (1) educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect Biblical values; and (3) encouraging Christians to be involved in the civic arena." He is a Texas Republican Party operative posing as a historian whose promotion of "Christian nation" pseudo-history is well documented. (He also promotes creationism on the Wallbuilders website.) Although Barton has no credentials as a historian and his claims have been repeatedly debunked, he conducts private "Spiritual Heritage Tour[s] of the United States Capitol . . . hosted by a Member of Congress" in which he "brings new life and perspective to the rich, spiritual history represented throughout this great building, covering artifacts and rooms usually not seen on public tours of the Capitol." The tours are open only to "pastors and ministry leaders." He also has ties to far-right religious extremists.

Nonetheless, in October 2006, during his term as a U.S.  congressman, Jindal, a Roman Catholic, brought Barton with him as he stumped in Protestant churches in north Louisiana. He was a guest on Barton's Wallbuilders Live! radio program the same month (October 18 & 19), praising Barton's historical knowledge: "Dave did  a fantastic job, went through three churches with us, just reminding us of our nation's history, our nation's heritage. You know, I listen to him. I learn something new on every Capitol tour, at every presentation. The response was tremendous, people just telling me  that [at] every single stop, every single church, they said they learned so much." Jindal's statements here suggest that he also hosted Barton's private Capitol tours.

Given these aspects of Jindal's political history and alliances, which have received virtually no mainstream press coverage either nationally (except for Nossiter's recent article) or in Louisiana, it is understandable that with his election, the Discovery Institute and the LFF might judge that their stars were now aligned. It was time to make their move. The LFF approached Sen. Nevers, while DI waited in the wings to try out their "new" academic freedom strategy.

Creationists, however, have used "academic freedom" as a façade for decades. (See Jerry Bergman, "Does Academic Freedom Apply to Both Secular Humanist [sic] and Christians?" Impact, Institute for Creation Research, January 1, 1980.) Such stealth tactics have always been creationists' last resort after federal courts declare their agendas constitutionally impermissible. This fate befell the Discovery Institute when Judge John E. Jones III did exactly that in the first legal case involving ID, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District (2005) (pdf), aka the "Dover trial," in which DI's already fragile credibility was shredded.  Immediately after the trial, DI began crafting an alternative route into the nation's public schools, using "academic freedom" and other traditional creationist code terms (virtually all of which can be found on the websites of organizations such as the Institute for Creation Research). Having suffered the legal fate of all earlier creationists, DI announced its "new" initiative early in 2006: "We have entered a new front in the debate over intelligent design--the need to protect academic freedom. . . ." They also posted their Orwellian-titled "Model Academic Statute on Evolution" on their "Support Academic Freedom" website. (See my discussion (pdf) of DI's use of code language.)

Creationists are always forced to morph into something less recognizable -- and, they hope, less legally vulnerable -- after losses in federal court. "Creation science" had morphed into "intelligent design" after the U.S. Supreme Court's 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard ruling barred public schools from teaching it. However, after Kitzmiller, that term, too, is legally dangerous, so DI had to disguise its efforts yet again. Consequently, "intelligent design" creationists now shroud ID in multiple alternative identities: "critical analysis of evolution," "teaching the controversy," teaching the "strengths and weaknesses of evolution,"  "evidence for and against evolution," and, in the form of legislation in Louisiana and five other states this year, "academic freedom." These code terms are instantly recognized by DI's supporters as announcements of creationist initiatives. However, the local foot soldiers cannot be relied on to stick to the DI terminological playbook.  Early in the effort, Sen. Nevers candidly told a reporter that he introduced the legislation on behalf of the LFF because "they believe that scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin's theory." (emphasis added) After some quick spinning for the media (and probably some additional coaching), Nevers got back on message.

The match between DI and the LFF was most likely made by LFF consultant Darrell White. In the Discovery Institute, the LFF knew they had an ally; in Louisiana, DI recognized an opportunity. This partnership is perversely appropriate in the state whose 1987 loss in the Edwards case was the very thing that had forced the ID movement's terminology shift from "creation science" to "intelligent design" in the first place. White has promoted creationism in Louisiana for years. He partners with Baton Rouge creationist Charles H. Voss, Jr., to promote creationist textbook addenda that Voss has written for use with state-approved biology textbooks. The addenda are posted on Voss's website, TextAddons.com, and White promotes them on his own creationist web page. White is an equal opportunity creationist: on his "Origins Science" web page, he posts links to both the young-earth Answers in Genesis and to materials by ID proponents (old-earth creationists) Jonathan Wells and William Dembski. He also wrote an article for American Vision, a Christian Reconstructionist website, in which he contends that the "uncritical teaching of Darwinian evolutionism" caused the 1999 Columbine shootings. As a show of support for DI's much-publicized effort to influence the Texas Board of Education's selection of Texas biology textbooks in 2003, White attended the board's hearings and entered a letter of support for DI's effort into the public record (pdf, see p. 382). After DI announced their "academic freedom" strategy, the LFF's targeting of Louisiana public school science classes began, and at some point, DI joined the scheme.

The LFF's first formal step was the Ouachita Parish, LA, School Board's adoption of an "academic freedom" policy (pdf) on November 29, 2006. The template for the policy is White's "Proposed Science Policy Resolution," which has been posted on his website for years. Using DI's current code phrases,  the Ouachita policy purports to protect the academic freedom of Ouachita Parish science teachers by permitting them "to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught." The policy specifies its targeted "controversial" subjects: "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." It also includes the bogus but politically useful "Santorum amendment," an informal title for stealth creationist language in the legislative history of the No Child Left Behind Act that ID supporter Sen. Rick Santorum engineered on DI's behalf in 2001.

Moreover, the LFF was apparently not averse to having the taxpayers fund this initiative. In 2007, Sen. David Vitter, another LFF supporter, had earmarked $100,000 in a federal spending bill to finance a plan "to promote better science-based education in Ouachita Parish by the Louisiana Family Forum." When the New Orleans Times-Picayune blew the lid off the scheme, Vitter was forced to redirect $30,000 of the earmark directly to the Ouachita Parish School Board for "science and technology." (Barbara Leader, "$30K redirected to technology in parish schools," News Star, Monroe, LA, October 23, 2008) Where the remaining $70,000 went is unknown.

With or without public money, the Ouachita policy is being implemented by at least one public school science teacher. A West Monroe High School biology teacher, Danny Pennington, along with White and then-Asst. Supt. Frank Hoffman (who now serves in the LA legislature and helped shepherd SB 733 through the House Education Committee), helped persuade the school board to adopt the policy in 2006. Two years later, Pennington has revealed that, under its protection, "when he teaches evolution he also presents evidence that he says pokes holes in the science" (Barbara Leader, "Legislature debates science's say in the classroom," News Star, Monroe, LA, April 14, 2008). This is tantamount to an admission that he is teaching creationism, which is precisely what SB 733 is designed to permit statewide.

 Most of the language of Sen. Nevers's original bill, SB 561, the "LA Academic Freedom Act," was taken directly from the Ouachita policy. However, one prominent part, a disclaimer stating that the bill "shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion," was taken directly from DI's model bill. It remains in the current version, SB 733, which specifically targets the teaching of evolution, the "origins of life," global warming, and human cloning. DI has praised the Ouachita policy as a "model policy supporting teacher academic freedom to question Darwin" in The Theory of Intelligent Design: A Briefing Packet for Educators (pdf).

The evidence of DI's integral involvement not only in promoting but also in crafting SB 733 is steadily accumulating. DI senior fellow and legal advisor, Gonzaga University law professor David K. DeWolf (torts and consumer law, not constitutional law), has revealed that he helped craft SB 733 in accordance with DI's model academic freedom act. DI coordinated the introduction of such legislation in six states this year, including Louisiana. DI staffer Rob Crowther interviewed DeWolf about the bill in a Discovery Institute podcast. Crowther affirmed that SB 733 "is modeled after the evolution academic freedom bills, after the ones that we put online and recommended." "And now," he added, "here's a bill [SB 733] that we've [DI] been recommending, and which I believe that you had a hand in developing, coming to fruition." DeWolf confirmed this: "Yes, certainly some of the early drafting. And the idea was kicking around in a lot of different places. Certainly, the idea wasn't original to us, but in terms of shaping the bill and making it fit more of the educational context, we certainly wanted to do that."

On May 21, 2008, Casey Luskin, former student ID follower and now DI employee, accompanied Virginia creationist and ID supporter, Dr. Caroline Crocker, to Baton Rouge, where Crocker testified in favor of SB 733 before the House Education Committee. The LFF-DI partnership was now out in the open. (See the LA Coalition for Science's June 22, 2008, press release [pdf] or more such evidence of DI's involvement in the Louisiana legislation.)

This cozy relationship uniting the Discovery Institute, the LA Family Forum, and the self-servingly obeisant LA legislature threatens to drag Louisiana back to 1981, when earlier legislators pushed the state into the annals of creationist history by passing the "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction Act," which the Supreme Court struck down in 1987. Louisiana has come a long way since then. Despite the state's image as a political and educational backwater, there are good, decent, intelligent people here who contribute each day to improving the quality of life and who deserve -- and should command -- the legislature's and the governor's respect. But they are out-numbered and certainly out-organized. They are busy working while the LFF is politicking at the Capitol and the Discovery Institute is scheming from Seattle.

The legislature's passage of SB 733 threatens to undercut decades of educational progress for which these good people have worked and continue to work so hard. A recent editorial in the New York Times had it right: "All that stands in the way of this retrograde step is Gov. Bobby Jindal."

Update [2008-6-27 10:39:19 by Frederick Clarkson]: Gov. Jindal signed the bill: Here is the news story [ed: [vote this story up on Digg here and here]




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