A bill that protects the religious expression of public school students throughout the school day and even with homework and other assignments was signed into law by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine last week.
The Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act, which passed the Senate 32-0 and the House 90-3, says public school students "may engage in religious expression before, during, and after school hours in the same manner and to the same extent" that "a student is permitted to engage in secular activities or expression before, during, and after school hours."
Further, the new law prevents school districts from prohibiting a student from "engaging in religious expression in the completion of homework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments." Teachers "shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student's work," the law says.
"Grades and scores shall be calculated using ordinary academic standards," the law says.
The law defines “religious expression” as:
- "Religious gatherings, including but not limited to prayer groups, religious clubs, ‘see you at the pole’ gatherings, or other religious gatherings."
- "Distribution of written materials or literature of a religious nature."
- "Any other activity of a religious nature, including wearing symbolic clothing or expression of a religious viewpoint, provided that the activity is not obscene, vulgar, offensively lewd, or indecent."
The Citizens for Community Values, a Christian organization, applauded legislators and DeWine for supporting the new law.
“No student should have to hide their faith just because they enter a public school,” said Aaron Baer, president of the organization. “The [law] is carefully crafted to ensure school administrators can’t unfairly penalize students of all faiths, or no faith.”
An Ohio House summary explained the purpose behind the new law.
“Current law prohibits a school district board of education from adopting any policy or rule respecting or promoting an establishment of religion or prohibiting any student from the exercise or expression of the student’s religious beliefs,” the summary says. “The [new law] removes a provision of that law permitting a school district to limit the exercise or expression of a student’s religious beliefs to lunch period or other noninstructional time periods when students are free to associate.”
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.