Kopplin lobbies an empty Legislature

by Heather Miller

That Zach Kopplin has the backing of the dean of the College of Science at LSU - the state's flagship university - and 42 Nobel Laureates speaks volumes to his cause. Too bad no one's listening.

Baton Rouge Magnet High School senior Zach Kopplin pitched a solid argument last week when he stood on the steps of the state Capitol and rallied for the repeal of a controversial state law that's largely interpreted as a tool to allow creationism (i.e. religion) in state public schools.

Since 2008, Louisiana has been the only state in the nation to have a law on the books allowing for supplemental materials in high school biology classes, materials that the law's opponents say promote Intelligent Design - a new form of creationism that hasn't been completely thrown out yet by the U.S. Supreme Court, as creationism was in 1987.

Joined at the podium by the Dr. Kevin Carman, dean of LSU's College of Science, LSU science professor Ian Binns, and one of two state lawmakers who have agreed to assist Kopplin in his legislative fight, Kopplin's speech urging the passage of Senate Bill 70 by state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, was well-crafted in terms of political appeal. Like Republicans in the Congress lobbying against "Obamacare," he closed by calling the Louisiana Science Education Act a "job-killing creationism law." Good one, Zach, though as the son of Andy Kopplin, deputy mayor of New Orleans and the former chief of staff to Govs. Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco, a clever jab or two from this teen is to be expected.

Kopplin points out that the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology had scheduled its 2011 annual conference in New Orleans, but pulled out once its members learned about the "creationism" bill in Louisiana. They've decided on Utah instead. Ouch.

"If you look up creationism on or Career Builder, you get a message that says, Sorry there are no creationism jobs.' But there are thousands of biology jobs," Kopplin said during his rally. "We're here to say we want science and only science taught in science class."

LSU Dean Carman spoke not only as a science professional and science educator, but as a concerned parent.

"Our children need to receive a high-quality education that includes a current and compelling curriculum in science and all other disciplines," Carman said at the Capitol. "The science education act undermines that objective, and the teaching of evolution in particular. Proponents of the science education act apparently feel that science can be taught and understood in the absence of evolution. I beg to differ. Evolution is as integral to the understanding of biology as atoms are to the understanding of chemistry."

That Kopplin has the backing of the dean of the College of Science at LSU - the state's flagship university - and 42 Nobel Laureates speaks volumes to his cause. Too bad no one's listening.

The three dozen or so people who came out in support of Kopplin or happened to be touring the Capitol on this breezy morning heard Kopplin loud and clear. But the state Senate, on Day 4 of the Legislative session, had no business on the calendar to handle Thursday, thus the upper chamber of the Legislature was absent, and the House didn't meet in full until long after the rally's end.

If the 2008 vote to enact the Louisiana Science Education Act is any indication of how its repeal will fare, chances are dim for Kopplin and other supporters of science. The bill passed unanimously in the state Senate in 2008 and the House passed it 94-3. All of Lafayette's delegation voted for it.

House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, recently told Gannett's Mike Hasten, "I don't see any real support on the House side."

Read more on the creationism fight in The Independent Weekly's Dec. 8 cover story, "Devolve!"