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Making Religious Mountains Out of Fiscal Molehills

The Guardian reported recently that a legal challenge by teachers' unions to Louisiana's newly enacted school vouchers law ("Act 2") was about "... a controversial policy in [Governor Bobby Jindal's] state which sees government funding given to schools that teach creationism."

So the lawsuit over Act 2, the vouchers law, is not just a local skirmish in the long war between public and private interests as they compete for more of the education pie, or some other mundane bit of inside baseball, but is really about crafty religionists sneaking religion into science class.

Makes sense. The story continues on the conspiracy theory track until a sudden reversal:

Though the lawsuit does not specifically focus on creationism, the effort to strike the law down will put a spotlight on its more controversial elements.
OK. So no specific focus on creationism after all. That bit about "government funding" of sectarian teaching was apparently just a hook. But surely the Guardian is not in the business of misleading readers to drive up views, so the case must at least be a little bit about creationism, or religion in schools, or something else Bill of Rights-ish, right? Religion or one of its proxies is surely afoot as one of the law's "controversial elements" or sub-elements.

Well, no, says every person everywhere who has read any part of any official paper in this case.

For those who don't yet belong to this group, below is some helpful language from the union's original petition challenging Act 2:

Act 2 and SCR 99 violate Article 8, Section 13B of the Louisiana Constitution because they divert funds that are constitutionally mandated to be allocated to public elementary and secondary schools. Act 2 and SCR 99 have unconstitutionally allocated MFP funds to such entities as private schools, parochial schools, private "course providers," postsecondary education institutions and corporations that offer vocational or technical course work in their field, and to parents who choose home schooling, and to new charter schools outside of the parish or city school system.
Translation: please, dear Court, rule on behalf of teachers' unions that the Louisiana Constitution bars lawmakers from dipping into the state's MFP (Minimum Foundation Program) pot to fund certain kinds of nonpublic education.

And in its recent disposition of the case, that's roughly what the Court did, albeit with a silver lining for pro-voucher advocates:

This Court is not suggesting that the State is prohibited from providing funding to nonpublic schools or nonpublic educational opportunities, but rather, that MFP funding cannot be constitutionally spent on nonpublic education or distributed to nonpublic school systems. The funding of nonpublic schools or nonpublic educational opportunities must come from some other portion of the general budget. [Emphasis added]
From these two paragraphs you can probably tell that, one, voucher funding in Louisiana will go on yet not from the MFP pot and, two, this case "does not specifically focus on creationism" much as Shakespeare's Hamlet "does not specifically focus" on Lady Gaga.

Since the Guardian completely missed the main point of the vouchers case, unsurprisingly it also conflated the voucher law with the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) of 2008, notwithstanding that neither has anything to do with the other.

The Guardian reports:

One of the main Louisiana voices against the scheme is student activist Zack Kopplin. He began protesting the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act -- a law that allowed public funds to be used at schools that teach creationism -- as a high school project.

In the wake of the creation of the voucher scheme this summer Kopplin has detailed at least 20 Louisiana schools that teach elements of creationism and are involved in the voucher programme.

The LSEA basically shields teachers who teach critical inquiry into matters of scientific controversy. Under the LSEA, items like the creative power of natural selection or the causes of climate change could be put up for discussion in the classroom -- as a learning exercise par excellence -- without fear of reprisal.

If the LSEA sounds sufficiently dissimilar to the vouchers law and case to merit separate treatment, then your ability to draw appropriate distinctions surpasses that of certain journalistic outfits. In which case, bravo, and please submit your CV to the Guardian's law and policy desk post-haste.