Louisiana governor can point to a singular achievement as he announces run for president: allowing theories like ‘intelligent design’ to be taught in public schools
His refusal to endorse evolution hardly distinguishes him from the other Republican presidential hopefuls, but Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal can point to an unmatched achievement as he formally kicks off his campaign: signing a law that paved the way for creationism to be taught in schools.
Jindal, who will announce his White House bid at a rally near New Orleans on Wednesday, signed the Louisiana Science Education Act into law in 2008. It was his first year as governor.
Ostensibly a bill promoting the discussion of diverse theories in science classrooms, critics argue that it was introduced as a way to smuggle creationist pseudoscience such as “intelligent design” into the state’s public schools. Efforts to repeal it, backed by 78 Nobel Laureates , have failed. The fourth such attempt failed last year.
Asked to lay out his opinion on the theory of evolution at a breakfast event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor last September, Jindal dodged the question, saying he is “not an evolutionary biologist”. It was a curiously evasive response from a man who in 2013 said the GOP needed to “stop being the stupid party” – not least because he was a biology major at Brown University, an Ivy League school, and a Rhodes scholar.
“I think that local school districts, not the federal government, should make the decision about how they teach science, biology, economics. I want my kids to be taught about evolution; I want my kids to be taught about other theories,” he said.
Another putative 2016 candidate, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, made headlines in February on a trip to London when he said he was “going to punt on that one” when asked if he believed in evolution, preferring to talk about his state’s impressive cheese production.
Josh Rosenau, Programs and Policy Director of the National Center for Science Education, a non-profit group that supports the teaching of evolution and climate science in public schools, said it is difficult to quantify the extent to which the 2008 law has changed how science is taught in Louisiana. But, he said: “It makes it harder for a principal to say ‘You can’t bring that creationist video into your classroom, it’s not appropriate’. The teacher can say: ‘Look, well there’s a state law, we’re protected.’”
Rosenau said that the uncompromising beliefs of evangelical voters and their political sway mean that candidates seeking support from that sector of the electorate feel obliged to tread carefully on the subject, despite the near-unanimous scientific consensus on evolution. “Interpreting anti-religion as anything that’s not an evangelical position is certainly where the roots are of creationism in modern American politics,” he said.
Barbara Forrest, a leading critic of creationism and a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, said that Jindal was pandering to religious conservatives. “To me, the significance of that bill being passed was that it showed the strength of the religious right in Louisiana,” she said. “Jindal’s major political base is the extreme religious right and the passage of that bill is a reflection of that relationship … he’s so completely now beholden to the extreme religious right.”
Creationism appears to be enjoying a growth spurt among Republicans. A Pew research study released last year found that 43% of Republicans believe in evolution, compared with 60% of the American population as a whole. The figure of 43% was a decline of 11% from four years earlier.
Five years ago, Jindal was seen as a rising Republican star and was discussed in the media as a possible 2012 running mate for Mitt Romney, though the resurfacing of a 1994 article in which he described being at an “exorcism” of a college friend who had cancer probably did his prospects no favours. “Kneeling on the ground, my friends were chanting, ‘Satan, I command you to leave this woman.’ Others exhorted all ‘demons to leave in the name of Christ,’” Jindal wrote in the New Oxford Review .
However he is a rank outsider for the 2016 nomination, polling at 0.8% according to a Real Clear Politics average of polls. He made his reputation as a sharp policy strategist but in recent years has sounded more like an evangelical demagogue.Last week, Jindal told a conference that corporate America has fashioned an “unnatural alliance with the radical left” by opposing so-called religious freedom bills that gay rights activists fear would give businesses a license to discriminate.
A converted Catholic who was raised in a Hindu family, he held a mass prayer rally on the campus of Louisiana State University in January, an event that evoked fellow White House hopeful Rick Perry’s own gathering shortly before he launched his 2012 campaign. Jindal’s rally was backed by the American Family Association, which has linked abortion and same-sex marriage to natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricane Katrina.
A Jindal campaign spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on the governor’s career.
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