The mantra of Indiana state Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) seems to be: “Darn the Constitution, full speed ahead!” When it comes to injecting public schools with official religion, he isn’t going to let the nation’s governing document stand in his way.
You may remember Kruse. In 2011, he proposed a bill that would have mandated the teaching of “creation science” alongside evolution in public schools. This year, he has proposed a similar bill that would promote “critical inquiry,” a euphemism for creationism, in the classroom.
Last year’s venture gained a lot of legislative support until some lawmakers realized it would have been blatantly unconstitutional. It seems those same lawmakers are weary of Kruse’s “critical inquiry” bill, too. Rep. Bob Behning, (R-Indianapolis), chair of the House Education Committee, says he’s not inclined to bring it up.
But Kruse, who is chair of the Senate Education Committee, is not easily deterred. He has now come up with a new scheme that would permit public schools to require the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer at the start of each day. The plan offers an opt-out for students who object.
The Indianapolis Star reported that Kruse’s fellow Republicans are focused on job creation this year rather than culture-war bills, so it’s not clear whether the measure will gain much support.
Senate President Pro Tempore David Long (R-Fort Wayne) expressed hesitation.
“My initial instincts were that it was probably unconstitutional,” Long told the Star. “It’s a clear violation of the interpretation of the First Amendment by the United States Supreme Court.”
Long showed sound reasoning there. He added that Kruse may have introduced the bill simply “to make a statement, not expecting a hearing.”
Kruse made a statement all right – that he doesn’t care much for the First Amendment or religious freedom. The U.S. Supreme Court has been very clear on coercive prayer in public schools: the Constitution doesn’t allow it.
But that’s not the only problem here. Which version of the Lord’s Prayer, exactly, would schools use? Did Kruse even consider that there are multiple forms of the prayer said by different denominations of Christianity?
Then there’s the opt-out cop-out, which Kruse seems to think would make this plan less legally problematic. It doesn’t, and anyone who opts out would likely face some form of ostracism by the majority. Schools are supposed to make all students feel welcome, not create an atmosphere where minorities get bullied.
Kruse’s agenda is clear: make public schools into factories that turn out indoctrinated children. What he doesn’t realize is that increasingly fewer Americans agree with him.
Philip Schwadel, a sociologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, studied data from 1974-2010 and found that since the mid-1970s, overall support for school-sponsored prayer has fallen sharply. In his soon-to-be published study, Schwadel noted that Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants now support school prayer at much lower rates than they did 35 years ago.
The one group that remains unwavering on official prayer in schools? Evangelical Christians, who support it to the tune of more than 70 percent.
There has been a lot of talk lately about prayer being the answer to the problems in our schools. The thing is, students are already free to pray as long as they aren’t disruptive or interfering with the rights of their classmates.
Permitting coercive prayer would create many problems and solve none. Kruse needs to drop his unconstitutional agenda and work on what his fellow Republicans say they care about most: creating jobs.