Indiana Senate OKs Amended, but Still Flawed, Creationist Bill
February 1, 2012
The Indiana Senate on Tuesday voted 28-22 in favor of an amended version of Senate Bill 89, which would allow public schools across the state to teach children the creation stories of various mainstream religions.
SB 89 will now go to the Republican-controlled House, where its sponsors are Jeff Thompson (R-District 28) and Eric Turner (R-District 32)
The bill, as introduced by Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-District 14), originally read that school boards and other authorized educational administrators could "require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation." It was amended earlier this week when Sen. Vi Simpson (D-District 40) introduced new language that was supported by Sen. Kruse. The bill now reads that:
“The governing body of a school corporation may offer instruction on various theories of the origin of life. The curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.”
The amended version of SB 89 was a supposed middle ground between religious and secular positions. Yet while it is certainly an improvement over the explicitly creationist version, the Center for Inquiry (CFI) still has serious concerns regarding the bill's ambiguity, necessity, and language use.
Sen. Kruse has said that "This [bill] does not do away with the teaching of evolution. This provides another alternative to evolution so our children are being exposed to more than one view, which I think is healthy for them." But where and how would this take place? Would the approved bill allow science teachers to discuss religious creation "theories" in their classrooms after teaching confirmed scientific theories? Or is it meant to create a separate comparative religions course? If the latter, would the course be taught objectively? Or would religious doctrines be presented as alternatives to what children are learning in their science classes? CFI is not necessarily opposed to comparative religion classes that are objectively taught, but since the Senate rejected quality curriculum- and standards-forming measures proposed by Sen. Simpson and Sen. Luke Kenley, the above questions remain unanswered.
Furthermore, by using language such as "theories" and focusing specifically on the “origins of life,” the bill tries to avoid clear constitutional restrictions on teaching creationism as science by presenting creationism as an alternative to science. But religious stories are not alternatives to scientific theories, and should not be presented to children as such. Broadly speaking, science is a process that requires its participants to make claims based on, and testable by, empirical evidence. In comparison, creation stories are specific religious beliefs that require a leap of faith either in conflict with, or at least unsupported by, existing scientific evidence.
There also remains a question of the bill's necessity. As put by Eric Meilke of the National Center for Science Education, "I have trouble understanding why people think it's necessary. ... If they want classes on philosophy or comparative religion, they can do that. There’s nothing that stops classes about religion, just don’t promote religion."
We believe these concerns are especially salient given that the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kruse, has said his sole purpose in introducing SB 89 was not necessarily better education or fairness, but to overturn the Supreme Court's ruling in the 1987 case Edwards v. Aguillard that outlaws the teaching of creation science in public schools.
The 20-minute Senate debate, which you can watch here, did feature two stirring defenses of the separation of church and state. Sen. Karen Tallian, (D-District 4) said that, "In my mind, this violates everything we stand for as Americans. I can't even believe we're even considering this. We made this decision more than 200 years ago. I speak for the Constitution, and the Constitution sheds a tear today that we're even talking about this." Sen. Tim Skinner (D-District 38) also expressed concerns about the bill's constitutionality, and asked his colleagues, "If we get sued, who is going to pay for the lawsuit?" The answer: local taxpayers.
Those sentiments echoed CFI's work on this issue. On January 18, we wrote to the ten members of the Indiana Senate Committee on Education and Career Development, urging them to withdraw or oppose SB 89. Our letter stressed that the bill was unconstitutional and in violation Edwards v. Aguillard, and faced a doomed yet costly court battle. CFI-Indiana Executive Director Reba Boyd Wooden also attended a public hearing just before the vote to read our letter aloud and field questions from the committee members. Despite our best efforts, the committee approved the bill 8-2, leading to the full Senate vote on Tuesday.
CFI will continue its lobbying efforts in the Indiana House and hopes that lawmakers there are as responsive to, and representative of, our concerns as Sens. Tallian and Skinner, and the 20 other Senators who voted against this bill. We will keep you updated.
On an unrelated note, I find it mildly amusing that the bill has been condemned by, of all organizations, the Discovery Institute.