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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - "Indiana lawmakers probe Ball State over intelligent design: Legislators issue demand, threaten 'legislative action'"

A story by Seth Slabaugh of the Muncie Star-Press is reprinted this weekend in the Lafayette Journal Courier. Some quotes:

MUNCIE — State lawmakers are investigating Ball State University’s decision to prohibit the teaching of intelligent design in a science course.

BSU President Jo Ann Gora concluded last summer that intelligent design is overwhelmingly regarded by the scientific community as a religious belief and not a scientific theory.

A “Boundaries of Science” class taught by Eric Hedin, an assistant professor of physics, allegedly promoted the idea that nature displays evidence of intelligent design, as opposed to an undirected process like evolution.

Four legislators, including Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, chairman of the Education Committee, say “serious questions have been raised about whether academic freedom, free speech and religious liberty have been respected by BSU in its treatment of professor Hedin, its subsequent establishment of a speech code restricting faculty speech on intelligent design, and its cancellation of professor Hedin’s ... class,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Gora this week. * * *

The letter gives Gora until the end of business on March 24 to answer the following question: “Does the policy forbid science professors from explaining either their support or rejection of intelligent design in answer to student questions about intelligent design in class?”

The letter concludes, “In order to determine if legislative action is required, we feel obligated to investigate whether BSU has acted in accord with state educational policy, legal requirements, and BSU’s own published standards.”

Kruse and fellow Republican legislators Travis Holdman, Greg Walker and Jeffrey Thompson also say they are “disturbed by reports that while you restrict faculty speech on intelligent design, BSU authorized a seminar that teaches ‘Science Must Destroy Religion.’ ” * * *

BSU spokesman Tony Proudfoot said the legislators apparently were referring to Honors 390A, “Dangerous Ideas,” which uses a book titled, “What is Your Dangerous Idea?”

One essay in the book is titled “Science Must Destroy Religion.” Proudfoot says other essays in the book include these titles: “Science May Be Running Out of Control,” “Science Will Never Silence God,” and “Religion is the Hope that is Missing in Science.”

“This is not a seminar that teaches that ‘Science Must Destroy Religion,’ “ Proudfoot said. “That phrase is simply the title of one four-page essay among 109 others.”

He added, “It is important to note that this is an honors colloquium with honors credit. It is neither a science class bearing science credit nor a religion class bearing religion credit.” * * *

The legislators are acting on behalf of The Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank, whose vice president, John West, told The Star Press he is hopeful the legislative investigation will force Ball State to release the report of the faculty review panel, which West called “an ad hoc kangaroo committee.”

“That report should be public so the public can judge whether what happened was fair or biased or whatever,” West said.

He noted the legislators’ letter noted that they plan to ask Ball State more questions in the future.

“Ball State ought to be careful,” West said. “I think their mishandling of this could turn into a much bigger deal. * * *

Discovery Institute officials have been meeting with the legislators.

“If Ball State isn’t more transparent ... it is risking legislative intervention,” West said. “Sen. Kruse is head of the Education Committee, so I believe he has some oversight over ... higher education. In the tool kit of legislators, you have funding ... and you also could have legislation that would create another investigative mechanism, or set up an ombudsman with power to get data and investigate things from outside the university to deal with academic freedom complaints.”

[Emphasis by ILB.] There is much more in the long story.

The ILB is reminded of the Mar. 16, 2012 Indianapolis Star story of another unofficial group of legislators sending a similarly demanding letter ... Here are some quotes from the Star story of that date:

The youth group — a support group for gay and lesbian youths — was targeted by conservative lawmakers who were upset that the group won a specialty plate. In the final days of the legislature, there were efforts to pass legislation that would strip them of their plate, while also cutting down on the proliferation of specialty plates in general.

When that effort failed, lawmakers, including Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said they had found an alternative “solution”: seeking to void the group’s contract.

Mary Byrne, executive director of the Indiana Youth Group, said the BMV called her today and said 20 senators had sent a letter challenging their plate and that it was being removed from sale. She said they were given no chance to appeal; no opportunity to state their case.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 16, 2014 04:36 PM
Posted to Indiana Government