The bill allows students to answer questions based on religious beliefs, rather than scientific fact
On Wednesday, the Ohio House passed the “Student Religious Liberties Act,” which, if passed by the Senate, states that students can’t be penalized if their test answers and schoolwork are scientifically wrong as long as the reasoning is because of their religious beliefs.
Instead, lawmakers want students to be graded on substance and relevance rather than on what has been scientifically proven in history. The bill, which passed 61 to 31 in the Republican-dominated legislative chamber, will now move on to the GOP-controlled Senate where it will likely be upheld.
“No board of education of a school district shall adopt any policy or rule respecting or promoting an establishment of religion or prohibiting any pupil from the free, individual, and voluntary exercise or expression of the pupil’s religious beliefs in any primary or secondary school,” the bill stated in part.
This means students can engage in religious expression in terms of how they answer test questions, on homework assignments, and in their artwork and prohibits public schools from rewarding or penalizing a student based on how they answer a question.
Clarifying their position, the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Timothy Ginter told WKRC that, “Under House Bill 164, a Christian or Jewish student would not be able to say my religious texts teach me that the world is 6,000 years old, so I don’t have to answer this question. They’re still going to be tested in the class and they cannot ignore the class material.” Essentially this means that whatever they have been taught from a religious perspective will now be a “correct” answer rather than what scientists have proven so, with the legislation specifically stating the instructor “shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work.”
Opponents of the law like Rep. Catherine Ingram believe the law takes the education of students out of the administration’s hands and concedes religion over secularism. “The bill is redundant and unnecessary, and I would hope that you, as my colleagues, would see it as that and not vote to further governmentally dictate how our schools and our parents and our communities should allow our children to function,” she also told WKRC.
Additionally, the legislation allows districts to provide a moment of silence before each school day starts for prayer, reflection, or meditation and allows religious expression before, during, and after school hours to the same extent as a student in secular activities or expression, but bans teachers from requiring that students or employees participate.
Citing the pressures over drug use, violence, bullying, and increasing rates of depression and suicide, Ginter said, “We live in a day when our young people are experiencing stress and danger and challenges we never experienced growing up.” Allowing religious self-expression, according to Ginter, would be a step towards fixing the problem.