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1/27/2019 12:07:00 PM
COMMENTARY: Indiana bill would put 'In God We Trust' in every classroom

Jon Webb, Evansville Courier & Press Columnist

Sometimes legislation is vague. Other times it’s weirdly specific.

The latter is especially true for a bill marinating in the Indiana legislature right now.

Senate Bill 373 pushes for an additional “resource” to be added to every public and charter school classroom in the state.

No, not more books. Don’t be silly. Instead, it calls for a framed homage to the national motto of the United States: “In God We Trust.”

The bill requires a kind of collage that features the motto as well as “accurate” representations of both the U.S. and Indiana state flags. And it leaves zero room for artistic interpretation.

The posters must be at least 11 inches by 17 inches. The flags have to be placed under the motto and be at least 5 inches by 5. They are not allowed to dwarf the motto, which itself must be at least 4 inches high by 15 inches wide.

The posters must be “durable,” the bill reads, and placed not only in every classroom, but also in the school library.

As of press time, there was no word on what fonts were acceptable or whether glitter was allowed.

But the posters are just the start in Sen. Dennis Kruse’s (R-DeKalb) bill. It wants schools to offer “religions of the world” survey courses (taught in a “secular manner”) and goes out of its way to push for classes on the Bible.

And if those classes aren’t good enough, parents could send their kids to a religious school for as much as two hours a week for elective credit. Schools could also decide to squeeze in lessons on creationism. 

It’s part of a nationwide effort to inject religion into public schools. Similar bills exist in several states, and legislation in Mississippi would even slap The Ten Commandments next to the In God We Trust posters.

Comparable legislation has already passed in – where else? – Florida.

But does any of this have a solid chance of becoming law in our state? Probably not, said Katie Blair, director of advocacy for the Indiana chapter of the ACLU.

She said it’s the kind of bill Indiana legislators draft every year: mostly symbolic chum for their political base.

“I’m hopeful our legislators would see this for what it is,” she said, “which is a blatantly unconstitutional bill.”

The legal history of this stuff, however, is murkier than you would think.

The Supreme Court case Edwards v. Aguillard nixed creationism in public schools, so that’s likely out. But Aronow v. United States found that “In God We Trust” is more “spiritual” than religious – just like your annoying friend Jenny.

Either way, the bill’s biggest obstacle isn’t the First Amendment. It’s time.

The legislature has much bigger problems. Lawmakers have to draft a two-year budget, mull hate crimes legislation and still find time to reject medical marijuana for the 203rd year in a row.

But lawmakers can learn a valuable lesson from SB 373. If they brought the same kind of weird attention to detail to every piece of legislation, maybe we wouldn’t have as many problems.

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