The Journal Gazette
Saturday, January 11, 2020 1:00 am

Furthermore ...

Education, money, religion ... and politics

Bills filed by two state senators represent opposite ends of the church and state spectrum:

Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, wants to require the national “In God We Trust” motto displayed in every public school classroom and library – at the schools' cost. Voucher schools would be exempt from the requirement. 

Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, wants private schools that accept vouchers to follow the same anti-discrimination laws that public schools must observe. He first filed the bill after Shelly Fitzgerald, a Roncalli High School guidance counselor, was suspended from her job because she was in a same-sex marriage. She was subsequently fired, as were two other Catholic school faculty members in same-sex marriages. A third Roncalli guidance counselor was also fired, allegedly for supporting her colleagues.

Both lawmakers are making second attempts. In 2019, Kruse tried to insert the motto requirement language in a bill that allowed religious studies to be taught in public schools as an elective, but it was stripped out before the bill was approved. Ford's bill wasn't afforded a hearing by the GOP-controlled Senate last year, but an angry debate broke out on the House floor when a Democrat offered a proposal to prohibit the use of vouchers at schools that discriminate.

Roncalli has collected more than $6.5 million in voucher payments over the past five years. Opponents argue the money is awarded to the families, not the schools, although the money is sent directly from the state to the schools.

Opponents of Kruse's bill also raise questions about state money – or the lack of it, as Kruse's bill offers no state funds to cover the cost of displaying the motto in thousands of Indiana classrooms.

Lisa Tanselle, general counsel for Indiana School Boards Association, reminded lawmakers this week that public schools already are required by state law to discuss and teach respect of the national motto.

“We would suggest this is money we would prefer to be spent instructing students,” Tanselle said. 

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