Vouchers in Education Promote Creationism Illegally

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Jan. 17 2013 8:00 AM

Vouching Against Creationism

Teach the controversy
An alternative theory of the Earth's age.

Image credit: Teach the Controversy t-shirts

There are days I wake up, excited to have another chance to share my love of the Universe and our understanding of it. I can’t wait to get coffee inside my brain and my fingers on the keyboard.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Then there are days like today, when I have to talk about people who refuse to open their eyes to the reality around them and writing about it makes my brain asplodey. Today’s culprit: young-Earth creationists. Their transgression: vouchers.

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Vouchers are complicated, but in theory allow children from poor and lower-income backgrounds to attend private schools instead of public schools. In practice though, vouchers are loaded with problems. One of the bigger ones is that many of the private schools that accept vouchers are religious schools, where creationism is taught instead of actual science (or, as I like to call it, “reality”).

This is a problem because the cost of the schooling for these vouchers comes from the public education system. So, in other words, public education money is going toward the teaching of creationism.

Teach the controversy
An alternative alternative theory.

Image credit: Teach the Controversy t-shirts

This is unconstitutional. That’s not just my opinion, either: A Louisiana judged ruled the voucher program was unconstitutional. Teaching creationism in public schools as a whole has been ruled unconstitutional many times, over and again, by the judicial system. Edwards vs. Aguillard is a good example, which rested on the idea that the First Amendment prohibits the endorsement of religion. Of course, there’s my favorite, Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover, which showed that Intelligent Design is just creationism in a cheap tux, and teaching it violates the Establishment Clause. I’ll note that the Kitzmiller judge was a conservative Republican, and his written opinion on ID (in which the phrase “breathtaking inanity” is used) made him one of my personal heroes.

This is also simply the wrong thing to do. Young-Earth creationism is provably, overwhelmingly wrong in every way. Teaching it to children is stunting their ability to learn about the real world, and putting them at a severe disadvantage to children taught real science. Of course, not everyone agrees with this assessment, but the unconstitutionality of teaching creationism using public funds is not at question.

This is a problem in many places, perhaps nowhere more than Louisiana. Governor Bobby Jindal, about whom I have written before, recently signed into law a terrible idea—given the Orwellian name of the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA)—that allows teachers to use “supplemental material” that specifically and with intent is designed to undermine real science, especially evolution. It’s clear Jindal’s support of vouchers is, in no small way, meant to further this goal. And it’s costing Louisiana taxpayers millions of dollars.

Zack Kopplin
Zack Kopplin, fighting the good fight.

Image credit: Zack Kopplin.

The good news? We have a good guy on our side: Zack Kopplin, who has been tirelessly tracking and fighting the teaching of creationism in that state for many years. He has been vocal, and tried twice (with the support of Louisiana State Senator Karen Carter Peterson) to repeal the LSEA. Both times he came up short, but he’s going at it a third time. He won’t quit.

He’s also tracking what schools are accepting vouchers across the country, and so far has found 310—three hundred ten!—that teach creationism, in nine states and in the District of Columbia. They are receiving tens of millions of dollars for these vouchers.

And it’s not just that schools are downplaying evolution. The heroes at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) just wrote about schools in Texas that are actively teaching creationism. This doesn’t surprise me at all, and won’t for readers who know my long-standing displeasure with the teaching of science in that state (and if you aren’t, a quick Google search will enlighten you). The NCSE also reports that antievolution legislation was just introduced in Missouri as well.

NCSE logo
National Center for Science Education works for reality to be taught in the classroom.

Image credit: NCSE

This is a fight, and it will not end. It’s been around a long time, and will continue; for years polls have remained fairly steady, showing that roughly half of all Americans think the Earth is less than 10,000 years old.

These people are wrong. They have every right to believe that, and even to teach it to their kids…at home or in church. But not at public schools, and not with public funds. That represents a clear violation of the U. S. Constitution’s First Amendment, and we must not allow it to stand.

If you can, give Zack some love, and the NCSE too. They could use it.