Last week, the Ohio House approved a measure to protect student rights to “religious expression in public schools, including prayer, school assignments, artwork and clothing,” according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Republican Rep. Tim Ginter, who sponsored the bill, believes the legislation clarifies freedom of religion on public school campuses. It is “inclusive legislation that will positively enhance liberties,” he said.
But critics of the bill believe it’s unnecessary. “I appreciate the sentiment,” said Rep. Phillip Robinson (D). “But we already protect religious expression.”
The law, which still must travel through the Republican-led Senate, will give student religious groups the same access to school facilities as secular groups. It will also lift bans that limit religious expression to lunch or non-instructional times and allow students to speak on religion in their homework or artwork.
According to Faithwire, this provision would allow students to embrace creationism in their science classrooms instead of adhering to evolution.
The interpretations of the bill, however, have been contested. According to the Washington Post, chief lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio fears the bill would allow students to answer “incorrectly” based on religious beliefs than science and not be penalized.
However, Charles Haynes, assured critics that students would still learn material even if they disagreed with it.
“They’re not off the hook from learning what is being taught,” he said. “They don’t have to believe it; they don’t have to accept it, but they have to know it.”
“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,” said Ginter. “They’re still going to be tested in the class, and they cannot ignore the class material.”
During hearings on the bill, several high school students testified that their religious groups have been treated differently than secular groups.
Aaron Baer, president of Citizens for Community Value, praised the bill, saying that it “comes at a critical time in the culture and protects the right of Christian and non-Christian students alike to freely exercise their faith.”
Photo courtesy: Ohio Government
Mikaela Mathews is a freelance writer and editor based in Dallas, TX. She was the editor of a local magazine and a contributing writer for the Galveston Daily News and Spirit Magazine.