"How Mike Johnson Helped Open the Door to Creationism in Louisiana Public Schools"

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson.

The support provided to creationism by Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana), the new Speaker of the House, was the topic of a detailed report in HuffPost (December 9, 2023) — and people associated with NCSE were a major source of information.

Referring to the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008, the report summarized, "When the law faced challenges to its implementation and schools faced lawsuits for teaching creationism, Johnson, who worked as a senior litigator for the Alliance Defending Freedom and sat on the Louisiana Family Forum's attorneys resources council, was the one to swoop in with legal memos, letters threatening lawsuits, and prayer rallies on behalf of the religious-right groups opposed to secular education."

Barbara Forrest, a former member of NCSE's board of directors, told HuffPost, "Johnson was always their legal go-to guy," and Glenn Branch, NCSE's Deputy Director, agreed, explaining that Johnson was "very involved" in the efforts of the law's supporters to exclude a requirement that "[m]aterials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science classes" from the regulations implementing the LSEA.

The report observed, "Since the law only allowed the optional introduction of supplementary materials challenging evolution with creationist theories, it has been hard to track the law’s usage in the decade-plus since its enactment." NCSE's Branch told HuffPost, "The same reason that makes it difficult to challenge the constitutionality of the Louisiana Science Education Act is the same reason that no one knows how effective [the law] is": there seems to be no reliable data on the use of such materials.

In the wake of the LSEA's enactment, Zack Kopplin, a recipient of NCSE's Friend of Darwin award, identified a number of Louisiana public schools in which creationism was taught. Johnson was involved in efforts to defend such schools, including in his own Bossier Parish, as Kopplin reported in Slate in 2015. Ultimately the Bossier Parish School Board was sued in 2018 over a pattern of actions violating the First Amendment's Establishment Clause; the case was settled in 2019 with the board agreeing that there were violations.

Meanwhile, Johnson "also signed on as the lawyer for another creationist cause up north in Kentucky: the Creation Museum, which opened in 2016," helping the proprietor of the museum, the young-earth creationist ministry Answers in Genesis, to sue the state over its withdrawal of tourism subsidies. His interactions with Answers in Genesis continued; Johnson is on record as praising the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum as "one way to bring people to this recognition of the truth, that what we read in the Bible are actual historical events."

Kopplin was accorded the last word in the report. Reflecting on his personal experience with Johnson, Kopplin reported that he found him to be polite and, unlike his allies, not "incredibly personally nasty." He added, "But he's from the same world, with the same goals."

Glenn Branch
Short Bio

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.