Sen. Kruse has introduced SB 11 which is kind of a reverse of what you normally see with these religious display bills. Normally, the approach is to encourage government units to display religious items and mix them in with enough secular stuff that it might pass First Amendment, Establishment Clause challenges. This one says it’s o.k. for State agencies to display historical documents that aren’t primarily thought of as religious documents — specifically the Declaration of Independence, parts of the Northwest Ordinance, Washington’s Farewell Address, and the Mayflower Compact — but then requires that such displays be accompanied by a plaque talking about religion.
A display of [one of the listed documents] must be accompanied by a document entitled “Educational Documents for Acknowledging America’s Religious History” that reads as follows: “Many historical documents pivotal to American law, constitutionalism, and political theory have deep roots in religion. Examples include the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Northwest Ordinance, and Washington’s Farewell Address, which collectively express5the American ideals of liberty, equality, personal responsibility, and the rule of law. The purpose of this display is to help the general public understand the role that religion has played in the legal history of the United States and Indiana.”
(Emphasis mine). Religion did have a huge impact on America’s development. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes for the worse. And, significantly, sometimes the impact had to do with the Founders understanding from relatively recent conflicts like the Thirty Years War how badly things could go when government and religion got too mixed up with one another. The decision to legislatively insist on a religious focus when the State displays the Declaration of Independence is misguided and probably unconstitutional.