While Idaho's 2016 legislative session had the potential for significant impact, in many ways our lawmakers failed us. They failed to Add the Words, Close The Gap, and raise minimum wage. Instead, one of the bills passed was Senate Bill 1321, also known as the Bible-in-schools bill, which blurs the lines between the separation of church and state in Idaho public schools. Once Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter signs this bill into law, it would permit the use of a religious text as a reference in all classes, including science classes.
This is an alarming bill for several reasons.
First of all, using a religious text, specifically the Bible, in a science class undermines the integrity of the scientific method, which relies on hypothesis, observation and testability. Secondly, it privileges Christianity above other religions and spiritual beliefs. Third, it is important to consider whether or not a student would actually feel comfortable leaving the classroom or expressing discomfort when the Bible is referenced in class.
There will be a power differential between the student and teacher, as well as peer pressure to conform.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this bill raises serious constitutional concerns.
Despite what the bill's sponsor, Rep. Sage Dixon (R-Ponderay), claims is constitutional based on what "the little Supreme Court in [his] head" tells him, our state attorney general has made it clear that this bill is "specifically prohibited" by the Idaho Constitution. Further, the Idaho Constitution expressly states, "No books, papers, tracts or documents of a political, sectarian or denominational character shall be used."
Despite what the Constitution clearly states and the attorney general's warning, the Idaho Legislature still passed Senate Bill 1321.
This type of legislation is harmful to Idaho in more ways than one. Not only does it violate the Constitution, but it is also costly to Idaho taxpayers. Unfortunately, the Idaho Legislature has a habit of passing bills against better judgement that result in Idahoans footing the bill for expensive, ill-fated legal casework.
In 1996, Idaho created a special state fund called the Idaho Constitutional Defense Fund that is supposed to be used to protect state sovereignty in conflicts with the federal government. However, since its inception, the fund has lost every case except for one, costing the state of Idaho and its taxpayers a total of $2.1 million.
Notably, 2015 was an expensive year for the Idaho Constitutional Defense Fund. The most costly case the fund has ever lost resulted in Idaho paying more than $628,000 in attorney fees after losing a case defending the state's unconstitutional ban on same-sex marriage when four lesbian couples sued.
Also in 2015, the second most costly loss resulted in a $474,000 price tag when a woman successfully argued that Idaho's restrictive abortion access bills were unconstitutional. In this instance, too, lawmakers were warned that passing restrictive abortion laws posed considerable concerns about constitutionality. Yet, despite the fund's history of futile lawsuits, this session our lawmakers again saw fit to replenish the nearly dry well and appropriate $2 million more for the Idaho Constitutional Defense Fund.
Other than the sole successful case won in 1996 regarding a settlement negotiation over nuclear waste storage and cleanup in the eastern side of the state, the Idaho Constitutional Defense Fund has operated as a conservative extension of the Republican majority Legislature's campaign against progressive civil rights issues.
Of the 10 lawsuits, nine were losses and five of those losses were related to same-sex marriage rights and reproductive rights, two of which awarded Planned Parenthood approximately $446,000 in total.
The inevitable Bible-in-schools bill lawsuit will soon be on this list, and it is necessary for Idahoans to ask, how much will this cost us?
As Idahoans, we must demand that our taxpayer money be used more effectively by the Legislature than on wasteful legal costs that arise due to passing unconstitutional legislation. Senate Bill 1321 will almost certainly be taken to court and the state of Idaho will lose.
The Bible-in-schools bill is yet another example of a misuse of Idaho's Constitutional Defense Fund prompted by irresponsible legislation passed by Idaho lawmakers.
—Emily Allen, Konrad Juengling, Tim Jensen, Cris Schroeder, Jenna Wiskus
Emily Allen is a graduate student in social work at Boise State University, and wrote this guest opinion with assistance from fellow Boise State students.