After the 2011 session, it's tough to imagine what education issue GOP lawmakers could possibly offer to push Indiana schools further behind. Now we know – creationism in the classroom.
Sen. Dennis Kruse, chairman of the Senate education committee, has filed SB 89, providing that "the governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation."
If Indiana didn't attract national attention for approving the most expansive voucher entitlement program in the country last year, this bill will surely do it.
Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, told me that attempts to pass creation science legislation are practically unheard of given the decisive 1987 Supreme Court ruling. By a 7-2 vote, the court ruled that Louisiana's Creationism Act, which allowed the instruction of evolution only if it was taught alongside creationism, was unconstitutional.
"The Louisiana Creationism Act," wrote Justice Brennan, "advances a religious doctrine by requiring either the banishment of the theory of evolution from public school classrooms or the presentation of a religious viewpoint that rejects evolution. Because the primary purpose of the Creationism Act is to advance a particular religious belief, the Act endorses religion in violation of the First Amendment."
Kruse filed a creation science bill in 2000, when he was a first-term state representative. It died in committee in the Democratic-controlled House. Today, he's an influential committee chairman in a GOP-controlled General Assembly.
It would be nice to believe that Tony Bennett, the state superintendent of public instruction, would reference his experience as a science teacher to discourage the bill's approval. But when candidate Bennett was asked in 2008 by The Journal Gazette editorial board what he would do if he learned that an Indiana school district was teaching creationism, he hesitated and finally said that he would have to consider local authority. After he took office, he accepted an invitation to speak at a creationist conference, but backed out when it was reported that he was the featured speaker for the event. Bennett said he didn't know the topic and that he supported Indiana's current science curriculum.
One thing is certain: If Kruse wants the bill approved in this short session, it will happen. If the legislation reaches the full Senate and House, Republicans there will have a difficult time rejecting it.