The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana's top lawyer said Thursday that a Indiana Senate bill that would allow schools to teach creationism in science classes clearly violates the U.S. Constitution and invites legal challenges.
U.S. Supreme Court precedents "going back many years" have established the unconstitutionality of teaching creationism in public schools, Ken Falk said.
"The idea that somehow our state legislature can trump the Constitution just doesn't make sense," Falk said in a news release issued by the ACLU. "When lawmakers propose legislation they clearly know will end up in the courts, it wastes valuable time and resources, disrespects the legislative process and confuses an already complicated issue."
The Senate Education Committee voted 8-2 Wednesday to send the bill before the full Senate despite experts and even some senators saying teaching creationism likely would be ruled unconstitutional if challenged in court. The bill's prospects for advancing to the House weren't certain Thursday. Next Wednesday is the deadline for bills originating in the Senate to win approval from the full chamber.
Falk said the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1987 case Edwards v. Aguillard struck down a Louisiana statute that required instruction on evolution to be accompanied by teaching on "creation science." The court found that the Louisiana statute had no identifiable secular purpose, but that the "pre-eminent purpose of the Louisiana Legislature was clearly to advance the religious viewpoint that a supernatural being created humankind."
The Indiana Senate bill doesn't require instruction of creationism, but allows it.
In committee debate Wednesday, Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, said there are legitimate questions about the theory of evolution and that many scientists agree with the concept of intelligent design, the theory that life on Earth is so complex it had to be created by an intelligent higher power.
"What are we afraid of? Allowing an option for students including creation science as opposed to limiting their exposure?" Schneider said.
Senate Education Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said he knew of nothing in state law that prohibits public schools from teaching creationism. He said he sponsored the bill because he believes creationism should be taught among the theories on the development of life and that the proposal wouldn't force any changes in schools teaching evolution.
Some committee members suggested that they would support amending the bill in the full Senate to instead encourage schools to teach about the world's religions in literature or history classes. Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, voted in favor of the bill even though it called its current form a "lawyer's dream."
Falk said that since public school curriculum must always serve a secular educational purpose, religion can be taught if the purpose is to examine religion's role in history, art, literature, society or other secular subjects. He said religion can only be taught in an objective, unbiased manner that does not promote or criticize any particular religion or set of beliefs.