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Indiana Senate Votes to Teach Scientology in Schools

Did Democrat Vi Simpson use Scientology to punk the majority Republicans in the Indiana Senate?
Did Democrat Vi Simpson use Scientology to punk the majority Republicans in the Indiana Senate?

UPDATE: We now have an interview with Vi Simpson, the woman who put Scientology (and other religions) into a Creationism bill in order to neutralize it.

Yesterday, Indiana's state senate voted 28-22 to adopt yet another creationism-in-the-schools bill, which have been routinely found unconstitutional since a 1988 Supreme Court decision.

But this one was a little different, and in a surprising way.

At the last minute, Senate Bill 89 was changed so that it now reads...

The governing body of a school corporation may offer instruction on various theories of the origin of life. The curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.

That's right -- kids in Indiana may be learning about Xenu the galactic overlord, spaceships shaped like DC-8s, hydrogen bombs in volcanoes, and the disembodied souls of space aliens that attach themselves to us until one uses the exorcism techniques of Dianetics!

But wait, it gets better. We're told that the addition of Scientology was actually the work of Senate Democrats who, unable to stop the bill's passing, at least wanted to make it as ridiculous as possible.

This morning, I talked to Kyle Stokes, who covers the Indiana Senate for StateImpact Indiana, a local collaboration with National Public Radio.

I had noticed that Stokes was covering the progress of the creationism bill, which was sponsored in the Senate by Republican Dennis Kruse.

I asked Stokes why, at the last minute, Scientology was added to the bill's language.

"They did that to neuter the bill," he said. "The bill now affirms what already exists, that you can teach religion in the schools."

Republican legislators routinely try to get Creationism into school curricula, and there's little mystery what the purpose is -- to counter the teaching of science with the origin story of only one, particular religious view, as described in Genesis.

Outnumbered, Senate Democrats knew they didn't have the votes to kill the bill, Stokes says. So instead, they came up with a different way to make it unpalatable to its Christian supporters -- by adding other religions.

"They'd add Rastafarianism if they could," Stokes says. "They're trying to neuter the bill. The Democrats are a minority in both houses, but this is all they can do."

It was a clever move. As Stokes points out, Republicans were then stuck, and had little choice but to approve the new version of the bill.

"No Republican is going to vote against something that encourages religious pluralism," Stokes says.

I asked Stokes who he thinks deserves credit for the strategem.

"Vi Simpson. She's Senate Democratic minority leader," he said, and suggested I look at her Twitter feed, where she did reference the creationism bill yesterday.

I've put in calls to both Simpson and Kruse, hoping that they can tell me more about this development.


UPDATE: Further confirmation of this stroke of genius comes from Gannett outlet JCOnline, which also credits Simpson for the amendment...

Sen. Vi Simpson, D-Bloomington, successfully inserted an amendment to the bill before it was passed by the full Senate, saying that if the Bible story of creation gets to share space in biology class, all world religions should get a place. Her amendment doesn't really handle the lingering constitutional questions the bill presents. But it would at least give school boards an out, if they're under fundamentalist pressure, to say that creating a science curriculum that broad wouldn't make sense.

Simpson's well-played addition should sink this bill. We're guessing that won't necessarily happen, though.

Well-played addition, indeed. I have to put it to the folks out there who fight Creationism in the schools (many of whom check in on this blog from time to time) -- could this be among the all-time brilliant gambits in fighting for science in this country's schools?


Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications.

tortega@villagevoice.com | @VoiceTonyO | Facebook: Tony Ortega

Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared


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