Zack Attack! Nineteen-Year-Old Kopplin Seeks a Topplin' (of Louisiana's Science Education Act)

Article excerpt

You might have seen Louisiana resident Zack Kopplin in the media lately or read about him online. Kopplin, 19, is spearheading efforts to end government support for creationism in Louisiana's public schools.

Kopplin first became alarmed when state legislators approved the so-called "Louisiana Science Education Act" (LSEA) in 2008. The legislation, which was signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal, allows teachers to introduce "supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials" about evolution into the classroom. The aim is that these supplemental materials will cast doubt on evolution and promote creationist concepts.

The act is the latest in a long-running effort to water down the teaching of evolution in Louisiana public schools and promote religion. As a high school senior, Kopplin in 2011 began organizing opposition to the bill and pushing for its recall.

Thanks to Kopplin's efforts, 78 Noble Laureates have now endorsed a call to repeal the Louisiana Science Act. Kopplin has also worked with state lawmakers, primarily state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans), to introduce repeal legislation.

On May 1, the Senate Education Committee of the Louisiana legislature held a hearing on a bill that would repeal the LSEA. Kopplin attended the hearing and testified in favor of repeal. Unfortunately, committee members voted 3-2 to table the legislation. Kopplin says he'll try again next year.

Kopplin's work has attracted national attention. He has appeared recently on PBS's "Moyers and Company" with famed journalist Bill Moyers in recognition of his receipt of the first-ever Moyers "Troublemaker of the Year Award." Shortly after that, he appeared on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher;" where a clip of his spirited debate with a Wall Street Journal editorial board member went viral. In addition, he has been interviewed by numerous other media outlets.

Kopplin, who grew up in Louisiana, is currently a sophomore at Rice University in Houston where he's majoring in history. He spoke about his efforts with Church & State recently.

Q. What got you so motivated to speak out against the Science Education Act? Have you always been interested in church-state issues?

A. I've always been interested in evolution, the separation of church and state and the Scopes trial, but the campaign to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act is simpler than that for me--it's a matter of right and wrong. Teaching creationism as science--through the Louisiana Science Education Act--is wrong.

I always expected an adult would stand up and fight to repeal this law, but by the time I was a senior in high school, I realized no one was standing up, and that person had to be me.

Q. You run the website What type of reaction are you getting through this site? Have you been attacked by creationists or Religious Right activists?

A. I've been called brainwashed by Ken Ham, the founder of the Creation Museum. The funniest thing that I've been called is the cause of Hurricane Katrina.

Q. Some people say you're wasting your time and that Louisiana legislators will never repeal the Science Act. You must hear this a lot, so do you respond to it?

A. First, we will succeed in Louisiana. We will fight until we win. Second, our campaign in Louisiana is ground zero of a much larger fight for teaching and funding evidence-based science in America. We're organizing a nationwide movement for science, a Second Giant Leap for Humankind in honor of Neil Armstrong's famous words when he first stood on the moon.

Q. Louisiana has a long history of trying to undercut evolution in public schools. You've argued that these efforts hurt the economy of the state. In your view, how has creationism harmed Louisiana?

A. We've had scientists leave Louisiana State University and the state. LSU's former graduate dean of science testified that he had scientists who decided not to work at LSU or had left the school, citing the Science Education Act as a reason. …