|Billy P. "Bill" Keith|
Louisiana State Senator for
District 39 (Caddo Parish)
1980 – 1984
|Preceded by||Don Williamson|
|Succeeded by||Gregory Tarver|
|Born|| August 19, 1934|
|Political party||Democrat |
|Spouse(s)|| (1) Mona Pigg Keith (divorced)|
(2) Frances Lowayne Sloan Keith (divorced)
(3) Vivian Marie Mendez Keith
|Children|| Tara Keith Rose|
Kimberly Keith Westfall
|Residence||Longview, Gregg County, Texas, USA|
|Alma mater|| Wheaton College
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
|Keith's career in theLouisiana legislature 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 Williams Tarver, Sr., who still holds this Senate seat.|
Billy P. Keith, known as Bill Keith (born August 19, 1934), currently resides in Longview, Texas with his wife, Vivian. A writer of fiction and nonfiction, he served from 1980 to 1984 as a Democratic member of the Louisiana State Senate. As a legislator, he was particularly known for his promotion of a state law which had it been upheld would have required balanced treatment in the instruction of creation science and evolution in public schools.
A native of Tahlequah in Cherokee County in northeastern Oklahoma, Keith graduated from Wheaton College, a private American four-year Christian liberal arts college in 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, a liberal journalist who later was the press secretary to U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. After the publication of Keith's 2009 book, Moyers sent him a note of goodwill.
A long-time investigative journalist, Keith 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, a study of Shreveport Public Safety Commissioner George Wendell D'Artois, Jr. (1925–1977), who held office from 1962 to 1976 under the city commission form of government, which was disbanded in 1978. Keith also examines the assassination in 1976 of the Shreveport advertising executive Jim Leslie. D'Artois was implicated in the still unresolved Leslie case but died before he could stand trial.
While in Shreveport, Keith served as city editor of the defunct Shreveport Journal, last owned by Charles T. Beaird. The Journal was the afternoon rival newspaper to the existing The Shreveport Times, a morning publication. At The Journal, Keith joined then reporter John Craig Flournoy in a sensational investigation of the office of Webster Parish Sheriff Oscar Henry "O.H." Haynes, Jr. (1920-1996), and the police department in Springhill for corrupt practices. The reporters alleged that the two departments had covered up cases of prostitution, ticket-fixing, stolen bond money, and narcotics violations. Investigations by chief criminal sheriff's deputy Thomas Cameron Bloxom, Jr. (1930-2014), and Mayor Milton Austin "M. A." Gleason, Jr., of Springhill found no evidence of wrongdoing. Haynes rose from his hospital bed in Shreveport, where he was undergoing treatment for bronchitis, to deny all allegations. It was noted that The Shreveport Times was, meanwhile, preparing a story on the lower crime rate in Webster Parish compared to other nearby locations. The investigations ultimately cleared Haynes. State Attorney General William J. Guste returned no indictment in the case.
Keith was a war correspondent in the Vietnam War and undertook freelance assignments in West Berlin, Tokyo, and the Philippines. He published biographies, medical and inspirational works, and numerous magazine articles. The Military Chaplains Association in Fort Worth named Keith a lifetime member in honor of his book, Days of Anguish, Days of Hope, 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 were given to all military chaplains in the nation.
In support of creation science
In 1979, while he resided in Mooringsport outside Shreveport, Keith won the District 39 Senate seat vacated by Don Williamson of Vivian, who did seek a third Senate term and instead ran unsuccessfully for Louisiana insurance commissioner, having been narrowly defeated by the incumbent, Sherman Albert Bernard, Sr. (1925-2012). As a state senator, Keith is primarily remembered for having introduced legislation, which acquired national attention, that would have given equal emphasis in public school science instruction to creation science and evolution.
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.
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. 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.
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." 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."
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."
Then Louisiana Attorney General William 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." 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."
In 1983, Keith was defeated for a second term for the District 39 state Senate seat in Caddo Parish by the African American Democrat Gregory Williams Tarver, Sr., the 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). 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.
- Membership in the Louisiana State Senate, 1880-2012. legis.state.la.us. Retrieved on November 23, 2009.
- "A Personal Note from Bill Moyers," Billkeithbooks.com, October 27, 2009, accessed November 25, 2009; no longer on-line.
- The Commissioner: A True Story of Deceit, Dishonor, and Death. amazon.com. Retrieved on November 25, 2009.
- Bill Keith (2009). The Commissioner: A True Story of Deceit, Dishonor, and Death. Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company. Retrieved on June 10, 2014.
- "Sheriff Haynes answers charges of corruption," Minden Press-Herald, October 6, 1977, pp. 1, 8A.
- "Guste returns no indictment in Springhill case," Minden Press-Herald, October 25, 1977, p. 1.
- Taken by Surprise. billkeithbooks.com (October 8, 2009). Retrieved on November 25, 2009; no longer on-line..
- Visit to Shreve Memorial Library. billkeithbooks.com (October 14, 2009). Retrieved on November 25, 2009; no longer on-line..
- Ridicule sparked creationism law, St. Petersburg Times, June 20, 1987, accessed November 25, 2009; no longer on-line.
- Source no longer on-line.
- Justice William Brennan in the majority opinion said, "as in Stone and Abbington, we need not be blind in this case to the legislature's preeminent religious purpose in enacting this statute," opinion, 482 U.S. 578, page 588; and "Here, it is clear that religious belief is the Balanced Treatment Act's "reason for existence," opinion, 482 U.S. 578, page 603.
- Frances Frank Marcus (June 20, 1987). Elation, Relief and Sadness In Louisiana as Fight Ends. The New York Times. Retrieved on November 25, 2009.
- Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, November 19, 1983.