Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Victory Against Christian Radicals

A controversial provision that would have steered $100,000 in federal funds to a creationist group in Louisiana will be removed from a federal appropriations bill.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) inserted the earmark into the Appropriations Committee’s report on a bill allocating money for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. Vitter wanted to designate the funds to a Religious Right group called the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF) “to develop a plan to promote better science education.”

Critics decried the measure, saying the move was a backdoor effort to bring creationism into Louisiana’s schools and. Yesterday Vitter acquiesced.

“This is great news for the children of Louisiana,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “The federal courts have repeatedly held that teaching creationism in public schools is unconstitutional.”

Americans United worked extensively to educate senators about the problems with the earmark. Lynn said the move by Vitter avoids a legal battle.

More than 30 educational, scientific and religious groups joined forces to oppose the earmark. On Oct. 10, they sent a joint letter to every member of the Senate, asking that the provision be removed.

Yesterday, 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.”

Americans United and its allies pointed out, however, that the LFF has a long history of promoting creationism and that it is clearly a sectarian group.

“If Sen. Vitter’s aim was to improve science education in Louisiana, I have to wonder why he did not direct these funds to a scientific group or a museum,” said Lynn. “Boosting science education is an odd task for a religious group.”

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