Indiana Senators Back Down From Religious Education Bill

February 26, 2019

Indiana state government officials have drastically changed a controversial bill that was introduced back in January.  It was authored by Sen. Dennis Kruse and co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Raatz, who represents District 27, which includes Richmond.  The original bill, Senate Bill 373, would have allowed schools to offer a mandatory religious course with the study of the Bible as part of the curriculum. According to the Indy Star, the course could have allowed these classes to teach various aspects of the Christian faith, including but not limited to what the bill referred to as “creation science,” the scientifically refuted biblical theory about the origin of life on earth. President Trump, whose Vice President, Mike Pence, served as governor of Indiana, voiced his support for the bill on Twitter. “Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible,” he wrote. “Starting to make a turn back? Great!”

The amended version is a shell of the original.  According to the Kokomo Tribune, schools could offer the class, but as an elective, and it would have to review the impact of different religions in an objective manner.  The reversal comes after weeks of backlash, and debate about the constitutionality of the bill, as it could very well have been in violation of the first amendment, failing to separate church and state.  There are still concerns that states could fail to correctly implement the course and cross the line into unconstitutional territory. The amended version has yet to come to a vote in the State Senate, and will likely continue to be debated and amended.

In other state legislation news, Indiana remains one of just five states in the nation without a hate crimes law.  As introduced, according to the Indy Star, the bill would have allowed judges to consider a tougher sentence for crimes committed against certain protected groups if those crimes targeted a victim based on their race, gender, religion, disability, or sexual identity.  Senate Republicans voted to amend the bill, eliminating all protections for specific groups, and instead offering general protections. The bill passed the Senate, and will move on to the House. The Indy Star also reported that Indiana Eric Holcomb, who had voiced his support for comprehensive hate crimes legislation in the past, said that the amended bill didn’t go far enough.

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