Letter: Encourage senators to reject HB 1134



I am writing regarding HB 1134, an Indiana House of Representatives bill under review in the State Senate. In particular, I urge the three Republican Hamilton County senators to reject this bill.

HB 1134 bans discussion of so-called “divisive concepts” regarding race, sex, ethnicity and religion and so on, and promises redress to individuals who feel harmed by discussion of these topics. Just a single complaint is enough to set in motion civil, legal and disciplinary action that could leave school district employees from teachers to superintendents fined, liable for damages, suspended from their jobs or even banned from teaching. This bill passed the Indiana House with the support of all six GOP Hamilton County representatives.

HB 1134 is bad policy. It is poorly worded and relies on large, ill-defined categories when determining what teachers can and cannot teach. Ironically, HB1134 passed the Statehouse on Jan. 26, the day before Holocaust Remembrance Day. On Jan. 27, Gov. Eric Holcomb honored Eva Kor, a Terre Haute resident who died in 2019. Mrs. Kor was an Auschwitz survivor and tireless advocate for education about the Holocaust.

If teachers strictly interpret HB 1134 – and if it becomes law, they will have no other choice – then they cannot explain to their students the significance of the day or why Mrs. Kor was honored by the state. One week earlier, that same teacher would have to find a way to explain MLK Day without reference to segregation or racism in U.S. history.

Naysayers can may well pooh-pooh such a scenario. However, the example of Scott Baldwin, a Noblesville state senator with one-time links to the Oath Keepers, a far-right hate group, do not fill me with confidence. Sen. Baldwin made headlines across the globe, including in my home country the United Kingdom, when he tried to insist that Indiana teachers ensure they discuss topics like Nazism and fascism impartially. One could also look at Tennessee, where a school board banned Maus, a graphic novel that is a pillar of Holocaust education, because of the subject matter, occasional profanity and a nude image of an anthropomorphic mouse. Writing as an historian and as someone who is Jewish, I say why take the risk posed by HB 1134?

HB 1134 is bad policy. It is a bill built on bad-faith principles. The bill will result in bad educational outcomes. Hamilton County elected Republican officials all boast of their independence and their willingness to make hard decisions. Let’s see our Senate representatives act where their House colleagues did not and ensure that HB 1134 never comes up for a vote.

Luke Reader, Carmel