Proud Americans often like to tout that one of the best things about living in the land of the free is the right to practice whatever religion they choose (or no religion at all). I, too, love this one. As a Christian myself with Muslim friends, Jewish friends, Buddhist friends, and atheist friends, the fact that we can all live on the same street, watch our kids ride bikes together, put our kids on the same school bus, and have a girls’ night complaining about our spouses leaving their shoes in the kitchen, I believe that this particular freedom is part of why our nation is so beautiful. It’s because of this freedom that we can all coexist and reap the benefits of living in a democracy that so many have fought for.
But it’s also because of this religious freedom that we need another equally important tenet woven into the fabric of our nation’s laws: the separation of church and state. You can’t have one without the other. And it seems that even today, hundreds of years after the constitution was written, that “separation” remains murky at best, with Christian Americans specifically benefitting by this lack of clear line in the sand.
One topic that continues to rile up religious Americans, non-religious Americans, and scientifically-minded Americans (who actually fall into both groups) is the topic of evolution and how it should be addressed in school. And the latest state government to manipulate the gray area that is “separation of church and state,” regarding evolution, is Ohio.
The Student Religious Liberties Act, led by Republican representative and ordained minister Timothy Ginter, basically says that students can “give incorrect answers on tests or other schoolwork if those facts would conflict with their religious beliefs” and receive no penalty.
So even though the concept of evolution is scientifically proven fact, kids in science class can be like “Nope, the human species just dropped down onto Earth from the sky because that’s what my church teaches” and they get a gold star?
As a former teacher, parent, and a Christian, I find this absurd. Is there a place for religion in a public school curriculum? Sure. For example, I taught the novel The Poisonwood Bible to high school seniors and discussed the similarities and references to the actual Bible—a famous literary text. (Just like we point out references to the works of William Shakespeare and The Odyssey and Dante’s Inferno—also famous literary texts.) But knowing that not all of my students are Christian and that addressing whether anyone’s religious beliefs are right or wrong is inappropriate in school, that’s as far as my Poisonwood Bible lesson went.
Also, you know damn well that legislators like Timothy Ginter blur the lines of church and state to allow one religion into schools, and one religion only — Christianity. And that’s bullshit and frankly, bigotry. (Yes, Cathy, I’m a Christian and I swear—it’s fine. JC and I are all good.) Seriously, do you really think Pastor G added an addendum to his bill allowing Muslim children to answer test questions incorrectly too? Doubtful.
Because, most of the time, those who want to “bring religion back into schools” or “bring prayer back into schools” really mean “bring Christianity” and “Christian prayer” back and no other.
And that’s exactly why we need the separation of church and state to hold strong and not be a gray, murky area, but rather be a strong, definitive line. So that all of our students feel equally respected and represented in school. Rep. Ginter is trying to walk back the scope of the legislation, but its impact is clear: the law will treat students differently based on their religion, benefiting some over others.
Science is science, and in a science class — taught by an educated science teacher using scientifically proven facts — there are right answers and wrong answers. That’s the beauty of the scientific method and of research and experiments. They prove something to be true, like the fact that all species on Earth today evolved from single-celled organisms.
So what exactly is the separation of church and state and how does it fit into this debate? The ACLU explains that this founding principle of the Constitution “forbids not only state practices that ‘aid one religion . . . or prefer one religion over another,’ but also those practices that ‘aid all religions’ and thus endorse or prefer religion over nonreligion.”
Basically, keep your religion (read: Christianity) out of public school curriculum unless you are learning about all world religions objectively (and all kids get the same fair test, based on facts, at the end.) And if you really want their belief in God and the Bible to be a part of their education Monday through Friday, take your kids out of public schools and enroll them in any of the thousands of religious institutions speckled all over the country.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that everyone in the United States has the right to practice his or her own religion, or no religion at all. And within that First Amendment is the Establishment Clause, which “prohibits government from encouraging or promoting (‘establishing’) religion in any way. That’s why we don’t have an official religion of the United States. This means that the government may not give financial support to any religion,” the ACLU explains.
So no, your kids don’t get to make up their own answers to scientific test questions in a science class, taught by a science teacher. Just like the kid in the next row over who is not a Christian gets no leeway either. That’s not what freedom of religion means in this country. Freedom of religion means that you are free to offer your children a religion-based education, just not one funded by the state and local governments and tax-payer money, as public schools are.
That’s why this bill in Ohio breaks that very crucial line between church and state. Americans do have the right to practice whatever religion they choose before school or after school, but sorry, Timothy Ginter, scientific facts are still scientific facts. And we need to let science teachers do their job.
The passing of this bill will lead to a slippery slope that will inhibit teachers from being able to teach fair, unbiased curriculum, and it will unjustly benefit Christian American children over non-Christians.
We need to maintain that line, drawn in the sand by our founding fathers, to protect the religious liberties of all Americans, and to allow our public school teachers to do their jobs.