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NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed into law a bill that critics say could allow for the teaching of "creationism" alongside evolution in public schools.
Jindal, a conservative Christian who has been touted by pundits as a potential vice presidential running mate for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, signed the legislation earlier this week.
The law will allow schools if they choose to use "supplemental materials" when discussing evolution but does not specify what the materials would be.
It states that authorities "shall allow ... open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning."
It also says that it "shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion."
Jindal's office declined on Friday to comment. The bill was backed by the Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative Christian group, and the Discovery Institute, which promotes the theory of "intelligent design" -- a theory that maintains that the complexity of life points to a grand designer.
"Intelligent design is currently not in the Louisiana state science standards and so could not be taught. But this allows scientific criticisms of Darwin's theory to be taught," said John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute.
Critics say intelligent design is biblical creation theory by another name and that the new legislation is an attempt to water down instruction about evolution.
"Louisiana has a long and unfortunate history of trying to substitute dogma for science in ... classrooms," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, an executive director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a religious liberty watchdog.
The group says similar legislation has been attempted previously in other states such South Carolina, Alabama, Michigan, Missouri and Florida. Similar battles have also taken places at the school board level in Kansas.
The teaching of evolution -- the basis of modern biology rooted in 19th-century naturalist Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection -- has become one of the leading battlefields in the America's "culture wars."
Many U.S. conservative Christians reject evolution and believe in the biblical story of creation. A nationwide survey conducted last year by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 45 percent of U.S. adults did not think evolution was the best explanation for the origins of human life.
Reporting by Kathy Finn, Writing by Ed Stoddard, Editing by Peter Cooney