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Another Hoosierland Holy War

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Charles Darwin as half-monkey with another monkey admiring each other in mirror cartoon.
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A proposed bill allowing creationism to be taught in Hoosier schools appears to be the next salvo in ever-expanding culture wars.

Many parents, teachers and scientists are up in arms over Senate Bill 89, which they believe would introduce shoddy science standards and set up local school boards for costly litigation.

Although the bill doesn't specify where creationism is to be taught, the bill's sponsor, Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said he hoped it would be taught alongside evolution in science class.

An avowed Christian who believes the Bible is the literal word of God, Kruse dismissed evolution, saying Darwin himself discounted his theories on his deathbed. Galileo goes to jail: and other myths about science and religion, published by Harvard Press in 2009, called the Darwin deathbed conversion story a myth.

Kruse said he introduced the bill at the request of several pastors and a Sunday school class he taught. He introduced a similar bill in 2000 while in the House, but it never received a hearing, he said.

The bill passed the Senate 28-22, but underwent some significant amendment. Sen. Vi Simpson, D-Bloomington, managed to soften the bill, by amending the bill to strike creation science language and changing "must require" creationism to be taught to "must offer." The amended bill also suggests that other religious theory could be taught in the classroom alongside Judeo-Christianity, including Islam and Scientology. Simpson has said she hoped the addition of the other religions would scare off local school boards.

If that doesn't make school boards wary, then the thought of expensive lawsuits likely will. The ACLU of Indiana is already gearing up for battle.

"It is unconstitutional to teach religious belief as scientific fact or theory, and this unconstitutionality is not lessened by the inclusion of several religions," said Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana.

An ACLU of Indiana spokesperson refused to disclose if its attorneys had been discussing the bill with potential clients.

Kruse acknowledged the state and local school boards would be sued if the bill passes and is implemented on the local level, but refused to cave to "ACLU intimidation." He admitted that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down similar requirements in the past, but believes the current court, skewed heavily to the right, might destroy the separation of church and state.

IPS School Board member Elizabeth Gore learned about the bill last month during a legislative committee meeting, but said the entire board hasn't yet discussed it. She didn't know enough about the bill to decide if she'd support implementing it if it became law.

It's not known if the Indiana School Board Association will take a stand on the issue or offer any advice to school boards who might consider it. A call to ISBA Executive Director Frank Bush wasn't returned Monday morning.

While the threat of litigation might prevent the bill from being implemented in most school districts, critics say it shouldn't go forward for other, more basic reasons.

Hoosier science teachers and scientists seem to be overwhelmingly opposed to being forced to include creation theory into their teaching. In 2006, the Indiana Academy of Science passed a resolution opposing teaching "explanations that depend on concepts relating to the supernatural," such as intelligent design or creationism.

Mike Robinson is strongly opposed to the bill. He said it is his job as a parent to teach his son, Sam, 8, about religion.

"That stuff should be handled at home; teaching kids about God isn't the school system's job," Robinson said. "Science class should teach kids about things that fall under the scientific method — things that you can observe, record and replicate — you can't do that with creationism, no matter what they tell you."

In the end, the concern over SB 89 may be a moot point. House Speaker Brian Bosma is known to be reluctant to push the bill in his chamber and, as of Monday, no hearing on the bill has been set.

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