INDIANAPOLIS — Almost a year after their last debate, lawmakers will again take up how the origins of humanity are taught in Indiana's classrooms.
Senate Education Committee chairman Dennis Kruse said he would not introduce a creationism measure again this year, choosing a lighter tack instead. His new proposal, he said, would encourage students to question a broad range of topics in the classroom.
"I would refer to it as truth in education, so students could question what teachers are teaching them and try to make sure it's true what they're teaching," Kruse said.
Kruse led an effort during the 2012 session to allow teaching of creationism. He said Tuesday the new proposal doesn't specify that religion should be taught or evolution questioned and said he is waiting on a draft from the state's legislative services agency.
In Tennessee, lawmakers approved such a measure — over the governor's objections — which encourages teachers and students to dissect science broadly, stretching beyond topics like evolution to others, including climate change and stem cell research. Opponents of it dubbed it the "monkey bill," in reference to the landmark Scopes Monkey Trial a century earlier.
Josh Youngkin, program officer for public policy and legal affairs for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, is helping Kruse and lawmakers in other states promote the measure.
"It frees teachers to teach both sides of scientific controversies in an objective fashion," said Youngkin, noting that students could press teachers to present facts and evidence for statements about issues like the shared origins of mammals.
"The teacher would not be barred from saying 'Let's look at both sides of the evidence and you guys can basically make a judgment,' rather than just accepting passively or memorizing by rote these facts and stating back these arguments on a test which would eventually determine where you go to college," he said.
Youngkin said he met with Kruse earlier this year and advised the senator to approach the measure as an "academic freedom" proposal. He cited a 1987 Supreme Court decision that found teaching creationism on a parallel footing with evolution constituted a violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause.
Opponents of the last session's creationism proposal amended it to incorporated origin-of-life theories from multiple religions.
House Speaker Brian Bosma shelved the bill, saying it appeared unconstitutional and could land the state in costly and lengthy legal battles.
Creationism would clearly land the state in court, but it's hard to tell exactly what Kruse's proposal would do without seeing the actual bill language, said Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana. He testified against the creationism measure last year.
"Creationism is not science. The Supreme Court has held the argument that the world was created in seven days is not science; it's religion," Falk said. "Evolution is scientific fact. Teachers can certainly say other people have certain beliefs, but they cannot be taught as fact."