On 23 September 2007, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that embattled Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter requested $100,000 in a fiscal year 2008 appropriations bill for the Louisiana Family Forum, a Christian group that opposes the teaching of evolution in the public school classroom.
The earmark, buried in the appropriations legislation for the departments of Labor, Health, and Human Services, and Education (S. 1710), would be used “to develop a plan to promote better science education.”
The Louisiana Family Forum backed efforts by the Ouachita Parish School Board in 2006 to permit science teachers to teach the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution. This, ‘teach the controversy,’ tactic has become a core strategy and common tactic of the creationism/intelligent design advocates. The non-profit group’s mission is to “persuasively present biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family through research, communication and networking.”
A coalition of concerned organizations, including Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, Organization of Biological Field Stations, Herpetologist’s League, Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, the Society for the Study of Evolution, and the National Center for Science Education, joined forces to oppose the earmark. On 10 October, these and other organizations sent a letter to every member of the Senate, asking that the provision be removed. Additionally, numerous concerned citizens individually contacted their Senators to express their concern with the earmark.
On 18 October, Senator Vitter requested that the earmark be removed. On the floor of the Senate, the Louisiana Republican insisted that the money was not designed to promote creationism and blamed the controversy on groups promoting “hysterics.”
“The project, which would develop a plan to promote better science-based education in Ouachita Parish by Louisiana Family Forum, has raised concerns among some that its intention was to mandate and push creationism within the public schools,” Vitter said. “That is clearly not and never was the intent of the project, nor would it have been its effect. However, to avoid more hysterics, I would like to move the $100,000 recommended for this project by the subcommittee when the bill goes to conference committee to another Louisiana priority project funded in this bill.”
In response, NCSE’s executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, “Senator Vitter’s defense of the earmark is obviously disingenuous, given the Louisiana Family Forum’s record of fighting tooth and nail against evolution education. But I’m glad to see that, with the removal of his earmark, public funds are not going to be misused to miseducate the children of Louisiana about the science of evolution.”
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