The Indiana Pi Bill is the popular name for bill #246 of the 1897 sitting of the Indiana General Assembly, one of the most notorious attempts to establish mathematical truth by legislative fiat.

So, what are the other attempts?

Context: I'm meeting a member of the legislative branch next week, though technically this could be more mathematical definitions than mathematical truth.


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It seems that this attempt made an impression, when one needs to make the point Indiana Pi itself is typically invoked. NMSR Reports modeled their 1998 April Fool's story on it:

"NASA engineers and mathematicians in this high-tech city are stunned and infuriated after the Alabama state legislature narrowly passed a law yesterday [March 30, 1998] redefining pi, a mathematical constant used in the aerospace industry. The bill to change the value of pi to exactly three was introduced without fanfare by Leonard Lee Lawson (R, Crossville), and rapidly gained support after a letter-writing campaign by members of the Solomon Society, a traditional values group... "I think that it is the mathematicians that are being irrational, and it is time for them to admit it," said Lawson. "The Bible very clearly says in I Kings 7:23 that the altar font of Solomon's Temple was ten cubits across and thirty cubits in diameter, and that it was round in compass."

However, upon closer examination Indiana Pi, officially "A Bill for an act introducing a new mathematical truth and offered as a contribution to education to be used only by the State of Indiana free of cost by paying any royalties whatever on the same, provided it is accepted and adopted by the official action of the Legislature of 1897" does not legislate (or even mention) the value of pi, it rather mandates an (erroneous) method of squaring the circle. The "new mathematical truth" is just a side effect. The bill was invoked again more recently in connection with the laws banning strong encryption. According to Michigan Daily:

"State legislatures in California and New York have introduced bills that would ban encryption that is unbreakable to law enforcement in personal devices. Taking it a step further, United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron is on record as wishing to ban strong encryption entirely, which elicited responses from the technical community that stated Cameron very literally “had no idea what he was proposing.” Because at its core, encryption is simply a widely available application of mathematics, such that Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales directly compared that a ban on encryption would be like banning a form of mathematics itself."

On this issue Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull outdid even Cameron. After introducing a bill that would "force technology companies to break into end-to-end encrypted messages" he was asked by a reporter whether the laws of mathematics would trump the laws of Australia. According to Brookings, his response was:

Well, the laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that. The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia.

Jokes aside, these bills would be harmless if they truly mandated the impossible, but that is not what they do. What they mandate is harmful but not impossible: Indiana Pi would have led to erroneous computational prescriptions, and "banning end-to-end encryption" means mandating so-called “back doors” to be built in into commercially available encryption systems. In the same spirit, Tennessee's Butler Act did not mandate that human evolution did not happen, but rather that it is not to be taught in state-funded schools.

And while you are at it, in the US and Canada trapezium is a quadrilateral with no parallel sides, while in the rest of the world, going at least as far back as Heron of Alexandria, it is a quadrilateral with at least one pair of parallel sides. Perhaps the legislator can do something about that.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks Conifold! Happy 6th week of Easter! ^-^ I won't accept for now to allow for other answers. $\endgroup$
    – BCLC
    May 10, 2018 at 5:30

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