A stealth antiscience bill in Indiana

House Bill 1283, introduced in the Indiana House of Representatives on January 23, 2013, and referred to the House Committee on Education, is the seventh antiscience bill of 2013. Although evolution is not specifically mentioned in the bill, the previous legislation introduced by its sponsor, Jeff Thompson (R-District 28), and the similarity of its language to the language of previous antievolution bills together make it amply clear that the teaching of evolution in the state's public schools is a main target.

HB 1283 begins by asserting as legislative findings that "(1) an important purpose of education is to inform students about evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to become intelligent, productive, and informed citizens; (2) some subjects, including, but not limited to, science, history, and health, have produced differing conclusions and theories on some topics; and (3) some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how the teachers should present information and evidence on these topics."

HB 1283 requires state and local education officials to "endeavor to create an environment within accredited schools that encourages students to explore questions, learn about evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to different conclusions and theories concerning" such topics, and also requires them not to prohibit teachers from "helping students to understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the strengths and weaknesses of existing conclusions and theories being presented in a course being taught by the teacher."

HB 1283 further provides, "A teacher shall be allowed to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the strengths and weaknesses of conclusions and theories being presented in a course being taught by the teacher." And, attempting to immunize the bill from accusations of its permitting unconstitutional activity in the classroom, it insists that it "may not be construed to promote: (1) any religious or nonreligious doctrine; (2) discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs; or (3) discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion."

In 2012, the bill's author Jeff Thompson was the House sponsor of Dennis Kruse's Senate Bill 89. As originally submitted, SB 89 would have allowed local school districts to teach creation science, but the Senate, before passing it, amended the bill to allow local school districts to teach various theories of the origin of life, which "must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology." SB 89 as amended eventually died in the House.

Also in 2012, Thompson was the author of House Bill 1140, which would have required teachers to discuss "commonly held competing views" on topics "that cannot be verified by scientific empirical evidence." Although evolution was not specifically mentioned in the bill, its coauthor Cindy Noe (R-District 87) cohosted a controversial dinner at the Creation Evidence Expo in Indianapolis in 2009, according to the Fort Wayne Reader (August 23, 2010): the Expo's organizer claimed that Noe was a supporter of his organization. In any case, HB 1140 seems to have died in committee.

HB 1283 is the only antiscience bill in Indiana in 2013. As NCSE previously reported, state senator Dennis Kruse (R-District 14) disclosed in November 2012 that he intended to introduce a bill that would encourage teachers to misrepresent evolution as scientifically controversial. He subsequently changed his plan, saying that he would introduce a bill that would allow students to challenge teachers to provide evidence to support any claims the students found suspect. Apparently, however, no such bill has been introduced, and deadlines for filing Senate bills and for Senate bills to be assigned to committee have passed.