INDIANAPOLIS — After repeatedly failing to get creationism through the front door of Hoosier science classes, the Indiana Senate has instead decided to encourage individual educators who take the initiative to teach religious beliefs as fact.
The chamber voted 40-9 last month to adopt Senate Resolution 17, praising educators who "teach a diverse curriculum" and specifically citing those who present alternatives to biological evolution.
State Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Centerville, the sponsor, insisted the resolution only is a recommendation that teachers be allowed to address competing theories on the origin of life if questioned by students about the subject.
"It's not endorsing, necessarily, teaching creationism, or that global warming isn't true. But it is recommending that teachers wouldn't be crucified if they answered a student and conversation ensued in the classroom," Raatz said.
Raatz acknowleged there have been no incidents that he's aware of where an Indiana elementary or high school teacher has gotten in trouble for answering student questions.
Nevertheless, Raatz believes the resolution — which does not have the force of law — sends an important message to teachers who critique scientific norms that state senators support their efforts.
"There's no requirement in this thing; it's simply making a statement," Raatz said. "You don't have to be afraid of answering questions in the classroom."
Every Senate Republican, except state Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, supported the measure; it was uniformly opposed by Senate Democrats.
State Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, argued that the resolution actually undermines Indiana's efforts to promote science education and get students to pursue careers in technological fields.
"When I read it, it sounds like we are authorizing teachers to teach creationism in a science class," Stoops said.
State Sen. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond, pointed out that the broad wording of the resolution also seemingly opens the door for teachers to promote any controversial belief in the classroom, be it the benefits of illegal drug use or the need for the United States to adopt communism.
"It's a big danger," Mrvan said. "They could be talking about anything in the world and they won't be responsible for it."
State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville, said he saw the resolution as unnecessary, because there's nothing currently preventing teachers from answering student questions in any way they see fit.
Raatz and state Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, co-sponsor of the resolution and Senate Education Committee chairman, have a history of promoting "teach the controversy" legislation concerning evolution.
In 2012, the Indiana Senate voted 28-22 for a Kruse plan authorizing schools to educate students on "various theories of the origin of life."
That measure died in the House when lawmakers realized all religious origin stories would have to be treated with equal reverence to comply with federal standards.
Kruse and Raatz also worked together in 2015 on an unsuccessful proposal that would have had students review "the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing conclusions and theories," particularly relating to human development.