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Bill Keith (Louisiana politician)


Bill Keith (Louisiana politician)

Billy P. Keith
Louisiana State Senator from District 39 (Caddo Parish)
In office
Preceded by Don W. Williamson
Succeeded by Gregory Tarver
Personal details
Born 1934
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) (1) Mona Pigg Keith (divorced)
(2) Lowayne Sloan Keith(divorced)
(3) Vivian Marie Mendez Keith
Children Three biological children, one adopted child, and two step-children
Residence Longview, Gregg County, Texas, USA
Alma mater Wheaton College

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Occupation Author
Religion Baptist
Keith's career in the Louisiana State Senate ended after a single term, as his 39th District became majority African American, and voters replaced Keith with a black funeral home owner and Shreveport City Council member Gregory Tarver.

Billy P. Keith, known as Bill Keith (born 1934), is an author of fiction and nonfiction in Longview, Texas, who served from 1980 to 1984 as a Democratic member of the Louisiana State Senate.[1] As a legislator, he was particularly known for his promotion of a state law requiring balanced treatment in the instruction of creation science and evolution in public schools.

An Oklahoma native, Keith graduated from Wheaton College, an evangelical institution in Wheaton, Illinois, with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism. He received a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. While at SWBTS, he worked in the public relations office with Bill Moyers, later the press secretary to U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. After the publication of Keith's most recent book in 2009, Moyers sent him a note of goodwill.[2]

His writings

A long-time investigative journalist, Keith has traveled to thirty-five countries in the pursuit of his writings. His work as a reporter for The Shreveport Times in Shreveport, Louisiana, during the late 1970s. This position provided the experience and material for his 2009 book, The Commissioner: A True Story of Deceit, Dishonor, and Death,[3] a study of Shreveport Public Safety Commissioner George W. D'Artois (1925–1977),[4] who held office under the city commission form of government, which was disbanded in 1978.[5]

While in Shreveport, Keith served as city editor of the defunct Shreveport Journal, owned by Charles T. Beaird. The Journal was the afternoon rival newspaper to the existing Shreveport Times, a morning publication.[6] He was a war correspondent in Vietnam and undertook freelance assignments in West Berlin, Tokyo, and the Philippine Islands. He has published biographies, medical and inspirational works, and numerous magazine articles.[6] The Military Chaplains Association in Fort Worth named Keith a lifetime member in honor of his book Days of Anguish, Days of Hope (now in the fifth edition), the story of a U.S. Army chaplain who spent forty-two months in Japanese prisoner of war camps during World War II. Copies of the book have been given to all military chaplains in the nation.[7]

An Oklahoma native, Keith resides in Longview in Gregg County with his third wife, the former Vivian Marie Mendez (born 1950), previously employed by the State Bar of Texas.[6] He has three biological children, an adopted child, and two stepchildren.

Creation science debate

In 1979, while he resided in Mooringsport outside Shreveport, Keith won the District 39 Senate seat vacated by Don W. Williamson of Vivian. Williamson did not seek a third Senate term and instead ran unsuccessfully for Louisiana insurance commissioner, having been narrowly defeated by the incumbent Sherman A. Bernard. As a state senator, Keith is primarily remembered for having introduced legislation, which acquired national attention, to give equal emphasis in public school science instruction to creation science and evolution.[8][9] The measure, signed by Republican Governor David C. Treen, was entitled the Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act. Keith's act required that scientific evidence for creation-science, the view of abrupt appearance of organisms in the fossil records, whenever related material on evolution was presented in classes. A panel of seven creation-scientists, appointed by the governor, would advise local school districts on the appropriate curriculum. The act did not specifically require or allow instruction in any religious doctrine.[10]

Keith's law was subsequently overturned by the United States Supreme Court in the 1987 decision Edwards v. Aguillard because the court held that the law was specifically intended to advance a particular religion.[11] Keith recalled that his interest in the matter developed in 1978, when his then 13-year-old son came home from school to report that a teacher had ridiculed the youngster's belief in God as the creator of human life.[9]

Upon hearing of the Supreme Court decision, Keith, who was then living in Jefferson, Texas, where he operated a Christian book publishing firm, said that he was "shocked and disappointed. What this means is that the vast majority of American school children will continue to be indoctrinated in evolutionism and will be denied the right and freedom to hear the evidence that points to creationism."[9] Donald Aguillard, a plaintiff in the case who was then an assistant principal at Acadiana High School in Scott near Lafayette, said that he was pleased with the overturning of Keith's law: "We just don't have the money now to be spending on bad science. . . . I'm thrilled that after six years we finally have a decision. The law would have cost the state monies that we do not have right now."[12] In despair, Keith replied, "Evolution is no more than a fairy tale about a frog that turns into a prince, but this is what we are teaching our schoolchildren today."[12]

Then Louisiana Attorney General William J. Guste, who had judicially defended Keith's law, said that the high court had "unshackled teachers and enabled them to teach all scientific evidence with regard to the origin of human life, plant life, animal life and the universe."[12] However, Guste said that the law was not "patently unconstitutional, and our position was agreed with by seven of fifteen judges of the United States Court of Appeals and by two of the judges of the United States Supreme Court."[12]

In 1983, Keith was defeated for a second term for the District 39 seat in Caddo Parish by the African American Democrat Gregory Tarver, owner of J.S. Williams Funeral Home and insurance companies. Tarver received 9,264 votes (51.4 percent) to Keith's 8,769 (48.6 percent).[13] After the 1980 census, the 39th became majority black and has not since elected a white senator. Keith soon left Louisiana and lived thereafter in east Texas. For several years, he published a conservative weekly newspaper in Marshall, Texas.


Preceded by
Don W. Williamson
Louisiana State Senator from District 39 (Caddo Parish)

Billy P. Keith

Succeeded by
Gregory Williams "Greg" Tarver, Sr.

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