Zack Kopplin has been called the “Doogie Howser” of political activism because the 20-year-old is already prominent in the fight to keep creationism out of public schools. He’s been featured in national television and print for his work in his home state, Louisiana, and writes a column for The Guardian. Zach also won the Troublemaker Award in 2012 from http://troublemakeraward.org/. He spoke with Johnny Monsarrat for this interview.
RDF: Your father is the deputy mayor of New Orleans. Were you raised to be a political operator?
Zach Kopplin: I’ve always been interested in politics. Since I was born, the dinner table conversation related to politics because my dad worked for two different governors: one Republican and one Democrat. So I’ve heard non-stop politics my entire life. Although I was interested, I’ve always hated the idea of becoming a politician because I was overly immersed in it… When my dad ran for Congress I was furious because [through the news coverage] everybody knew everything and it drove me crazy. I never thought I’d be on this path myself.
RDF: It sounds like the work is too important to resist. You’re passionate about blocking the Louisiana Science Education Act. Tell us about that.
Zach Kopplin: Despite its name, it’s the least scientific law I’ve ever heard of… A teacher can walk into a classroom with a Bible and say, “I’m not promoting religion, but I’m going to critique the theory of evolution.” As long as the disclaimer is made, the teacher has the right to dismiss what’s in [science] books and will not get fired.
RDF: Your attempts to repeal the law have been blocked so far in the state senate’s education committee. What’s the next step?
Zach Kopplin: We’ll keep pushing every year until they repeal it. I know, the legislators know, we all know that eventually this law will be repealed… If the legislature isn’t doing the right thing now, I’m looking forward to the elections in Louisiana coming in 2015, because a lot of the people opposing the repealing of this law will be out of the office after that.
RDF: You won what must be the world’s most surreal award: the First Amendment Award given by Hugh Heffner, the founder of Playboy Magazine. Did you meet him? How weird was that?
Zach Kopplin: I shook his hand and he hung out with us before the speeches. It was pretty awesome. I spoke with his kids for a while, too. They are the ones who actually run the award. It was funny because his son said, “He needs to wear a suit [for the ceremony]. He can’t do this in his bathrobe.” Of course Hugh Hefner came out in his suit jacket bathrobe, and his son said, “Well, there goes that!”
RDF: It wouldn’t be Hugh Hefner without the smoking jacket.
RDF: Our video of the week shows you on the HBO news show, Real Time with Bill Maher. Conservative economist Stephen Moore eats liberals for breakfast, and slammed you in a way that would make most of us cry on the spot. Without blinking, you defended yourself, and then you hit back with a one-liner that was so clever that the clip of your saying it went viral. What’s your secret?
Zach Kopplin: The trick is to be thinking of one-liners all the time, continually. You have to be ready to think of a quote or a line that people will remember.
RDF: Have you debated creationists?
Zach Kopplin: This is always a hard question. I think about the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, for example. There’s an argument amongst people who fight creationists about whether you should ever engage with them… because you give them legitimacy, which is exactly what they’re looking for.
Zach Kopplin: A Gallup poll said that 45% of Americans believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old… Over the last decades we haven’t seen that number change, which means we’re losing the debate. That’s as much a problem as the number. So I won’t debate a creationist. If you’re a creationist and want to sit down and have a debate with me, I’m never going to do that. [For more on debating creationists, see Victor Stenger's interview next week.]
RDF: How can people support your work on science education and funding for science?
Zach Kopplin: [Just visit our website] or send us an email. Tell us you want to volunteer, or request information about which politicians in your area support laws like the Louisiana Science Education Act… You can email me if you live somewhere where a creationist bill may get passed and you want to know what you can do to fight it. We fight dozens of those kind of bills every year.
Zach Kopplin: If your kid is being taught creationism in a public school, you can also contact me, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, or the ACLU, because we can actually stop that.
Zach Kopplin runs the website http://democracy.com/Science/
Written By: RDFRS