Most state legislatures around the country have just started new sessions, and some troubling bills have already emerged. An Indiana proposal, for example, would undermine the teaching of evolution in public schools.
Senate Bill 373, sponsored by state Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Dist. 14), is actually a grab bag of bad ideas. Taking a page from Project Blitz, it would require that public schools post “In God We Trust” signs in every classroom. It would also mandate that every public school offer elective courses on world religions that “may also include as part of the survey course’s curriculum the study of the Bible.”
That’s bad enough. Here’s where things get really interesting, though: The bill also promotes teaching creationism. It says that “the governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science.”
Most of the anti-evolution bills we see these days employ subterfuge. They’re clearly designed to undercut evolution and promote creationism, but they don’t come right out and say that. Instead, they refer to the need to teach “controversies” in science (even though there is no controversy in the scientific community over the validity of evolution, where it is accepted as evidence-based fact) or mandate that teachers instruct about “strengths and weaknesses” of certain scientific theories. Of course, the only theory ever targeted for this treatment is evolution, and the lessons plans include creationist dogma.
Kruse is going down a different path. He decided to put a mention of creation science right in the bill. Essentially, he’s a pushing a new version of the “balanced treatment” law that Louisiana legislators passed in the 1980s. That bill mandated that if evolution were taught in public schools, creationism had to be taught as well. This ill-considered measure was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1987’s Edwards v. Aguillard ruling.
The courts have been clear that creationism can’t be taught in public schools because it’s grounded in religion. Creationism takes a literal interpretation of the Bible favored by fundamentalist Christians (but rejected by millions of mainstream, moderate and progressive Christians) and tries to dress it up in a lab coat. Creationism is theology, not science, and that’s why Americans United has opposed teaching it in public schools from day one.
Kruse’s bill clearly runs afoul of the high court’s ruling in the Aguillard case. If the bill passes, schools that teach creationism will likely be sued, and taxpayers will bear the costs. But let’s hope it never gets that far. Legislators in Indiana should spare themselves a lot of heartache by rejecting this bad bill.
P.S. Creationism bills have also surfaced in Arizona, North Dakota and Oklahoma. Americans United’s Public Policy Department is closely watching developments. Stay tuned.