Strange New Religious Law in Ohio

We wrote about this one last year when the bill was just introduced into the Ohio House of Representatives — see Creationist Legislation in Ohio. With our bold font, the bill provided that:

No school district board of education … shall prohibit a student from engaging in religious expression in the completion of homework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments. Assignment grades and scores shall be calculated using ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, including any legitimate pedagogical concerns, and shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work.

It sounded goofy, and we fully expected that nothing would come of it — but it appears that we were wrong. We just found this in the Times Recorder of Zanesville, Ohio: New Ohio law allows more religious expression within schools. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:

Students are granted guaranteed rights to express religious expression at public schools under a new Ohio law, but critics and experts question its necessity. “It’s a First Amendment thing,” said 97th Ohio House District Rep. Adam Holmes, who co-sponsored House Bill 164. “There’s also that sense of fairness, you wouldn’t want to prosecute any religion”.

Heavens no, we wouldn’t want to prosecute any religion, so let the Oogity Boogity flow! They quote Holmes a bit more:

“(HB 164) was generated because of several instances in Ohio schools where religious expression was being restricted to specific times and places in ways not required of other expressions,” he said. “We just want it to be neutral.”

He wants to be neutral? Why not Teach the Controversy? That’s neutral. Then the newspaper tells us:

Holmes (R-Nashport), who represents Guernsey County and portions of Muskingum County, highlighted his interest in two parts of the legislation, which was introduced last year and became fully effective in September. The law gives absolute guarantee that a student could voluntarily write about religious subject matter for classes and that they could start a religiously-based club, no questions asked.

The newspaper goes on and on, and they make a big fuss about the pros and cons of a “moment of silence” which the bill authorizes. To us, that seems rather trivial. Hey, they say the bill was passed a few months ago and was signed by the Governor in June. For some reason, we’re just learning about it now.

We tried to find the wording of the final statute, but for some reason we weren’t successful. Anyway, that’s the situation in Ohio. Since the thing passed, we can expect more like it to be introduced into other state legislatures when they open for business in a few months. Stay tuned to this blog!

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4 responses to “Strange New Religious Law in Ohio

  1. Michael Fugate

    You can download a version here:
    https://openstates.org/oh/bills/133/HB164/
    From the opening:
    “No board of education shall prohibit a classroom teacher from providing in the teacher’s classroom reasonable periods of time for activities of a moral, philosophical, or patriotic theme. No pupil shall be required to participate in such activities if they are contrary to the religious convictions of the pupil or the pupil’s parents or guardians.”

    So you can only opt out for religious convictions? what about moral or philosophical or patriotic convictions?

    The changes start on page 14 mostly allowing religion at any time…

  2. 1. “No school district board of education … shall prohibit a student from engaging in religious expression”
    is not nearly the same as

    2. ““No board of education shall prohibit a classroom teacher from providing in the teacher’s classroom reasonable periods of time for activities of …..”
    You can be sure that in biology class someone like Ol’Hambo thinks 100% Young Earth Creacrap a very reasonable period.

    At the other hand the way 1. is formulated just allows students to copy the entire Bible when writing a paper on common descend of Homo Sapiens and Pan Troglodytes without having any effect on the teacher’s evaluation. So if the paper doesn’t contain anything about evolution theory it will still receive the lowest possible.
    A weird law indeed.

  3. Theodore J Lawry

    I can’t imagine any ordinary schoolchild having the slightest interest in this law unless some trouble maker puts him/her up to it. Which is the point, I suspect.

  4. FrankB hits the nail. Expression in class of religious ideas, statements of religious faith, quotations or interpretations of religious doctrines or texts, are completely null content, according to this law, unless they are demonstrably relevant to the secular purpose of the class. For instance, in a history class, the relatively rapid spread of literacy in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth century might be partly explained by the Reformation and Counter-reformation, and the perceived need to read the Christian scriptures – a relevant religious doctrine..

    Absent this relevance, an essay or a classroom exercise that consisted of religious expression would be simply filler; inert material of neither merit nor demerit. In other words, worthless. Zero marks for that.