March 2012 Church & State | Editorial

Something is rotten in the state of Indiana.

A few things are rotten there, actually. An influx of far-right “Tea Party” conservatives was swept into the legislature in 2010. For all of their talk about revering the Constitution, these lawmakers don’t seem to understand our nation’s governing document – especially the section mandating church-state separation.

Legislation that would permit the teaching of “creation science” – that is, fundamentalist Christianity – in public schools has cleared the Indiana Senate. In what was probably an effort to add a “killer amendment,” one senator amended the measure to permit science instruction on “origins” from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Scientology and other faiths. The Senate passed S.B. 89 anyway.

The Supreme Court stated quite definitively in 1987 that public schools may not teach religious creation accounts alongside evolution in science classes. The former are theology, while the latter is science.

This bill is bad enough, but another measure pending in the Indiana Senate is perhaps worse. S.B. 251 would authorize local schools to open the day with recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.

Like the creationism bill, this proposal is patently unconstitutional. Fifty years ago, the Supreme Court struck down coercive school-sponsored devotionals. Subsequent decisions have only buttressed that ruling.

Unfortunately, bills like these are appearing in other states. Anti-evolution measures are spreading, and a school prayer proposal has cleared the Senate in Florida.

Legislators who promote these measures are pandering to a fundamentalist constituency. They don’t seem to care that they are putting public schools at legal risk. Any public school officials reckless enough to mandate the teaching of creationism or require prayer every day will soon find themselves in court. And they will lose, because the Constitution and judicial precedent are clear.

What happens after that? The school will most likely be required to pay the legal costs incurred by the other side. These expenses can be considerable. A public school in Rhode Island was sued recently after officials refused to remove a school