Prospective antievolution bill mutates in Indiana

The expected antievolution bill in Indiana appears to have mutated. As NCSE previously reported, state senator Dennis Kruse (R-District 14) told the Lafayette Journal and Courier (November 10, 2012) that he planned to introduce a bill drafted by the Discovery Institute, presumably along the lines of the bills enacted in Tennessee in 2012 and Louisiana in 2008, encouraging teachers to misrepresent evolution as controversial. But now the Indianapolis Star (December 4, 2012) reports that Kruse plans "to pursue legislation that allows students to challenge teachers on issues, forcing them to provide evidence to back up their lessons."

In 2011, Kruse's Senate Bill 89 would have allowed local school districts to require the teaching of creation science — despite the Supreme Court's ruling in the 1987 case Edwards v. Aguillard that teaching creation science in public schools is unconstitutional. SB 89 passed the Senate but was amended there to delete the reference to creation science and to require reference to "Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology"; the speaker of the House of Representatives declined to let it come to a vote there, citing concerns about a potential lawsuit, and the bill died when the legislature adjourned.

Describing his new idea as "a different approach," Kruse explained to the Star, "I would call it 'truth in education' to make sure that what is being taught is true ... And if a student thinks something isn't true, then they can question the teacher and the teacher would have to come up with some kind of research to support that what they are teaching is true or not true." He added that the bill would delegate the exact implementation of the process to local school districts: "It's going to be written in kind of a broad way." Although Kruse was not quoted as mentioning evolution in particular, the Star seemed convinced that it was in his sights.

Nate Schnellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association and a former biology teacher, told the Star that a teacher faced with a student's challenge to demonstrate the truth of evolution could simply "turn to the textbook and use fossils as an example." Citing the possibility of students demanding evidence of such uncontroversial facts as the moon landing, he argued that the bill, if enacted, would be unduly burdensome to teachers. "I think we've got more important things to worry about than that," he commented. "It's just another thing to add to the myriad of hoops teachers have to jump through now that take away from actual instruction."

State senator Tim Skinner (D-District 38), who taught in Indiana schools for nearly a quarter century, told Indiana Public Media (December 4, 2012) that Kruse's proposal was unnecessary. "If Senator Kruse had education experience he would know that students across the country are already doing that every day in the public school classroom," Skinner said. "They question everything, and I think a teacher who's actually doing their job will answer those questions." Skinner was one of two members of the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development who voted against Kruse's Senate Bill 89 in 2012.

The Lafayette Journal and Courier (December 5, 2012) reported that Bob Behning (R-District 91) — the chair of the House Education Committee, where Kruse's antievolution bill would be referred if it were to pass the Senate — said that he "wouldn't prejudge whether he'd give this bill a hearing if it makes it through the Senate." Nevertheless, Behning was unenthusiastic about it, describing it as too broad and vague. Echoing Schnellenberger's concerns, he commented, "I don't want to do something that’s going to burden schools to the point where they’re going to spend their lives trying to validate what is assumed to be true."

Updated on December 4 and 6, 2012, by the addition of the fifth and sixth paragraphs, respectively.