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The Ohio House passed HB 164 61-31 with only two Democrats voting in favor of it and no Republicans voting against it. Ohio House Bill 164 would allow students to say, for example, that Earth is 10,000 years old in their work and teachers could not penalize them because of students’ religious beliefs.
The relevant portion of the law is this: “[No district] 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.”
Ohio Chief Lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Gary Daniels, called HB 164 a mixed bag. On the one hand it removes some restrictions on students’ religious rights. On the other hand, Daniels said a student may submit biology homework saying the earth is 10,000 years old, as some creationists believe, and the teacher cannot dock points.
“Under HB 164 ... clearly states the instructor ‘shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work,” he said.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep Timothy Gintis says that the bill’s “nuances” prohibit students from getting credit for wrong but religiously-inspired answers. Ginter said that the student would get a lesser grade in a biology class for an evolution assignment. However, he also undermines what he said by asserting that Moses was a historical figure and you could get credit for writing about Moses as if he existed.
The bill’s sponsor Rep. Timothy Ginter, Youngstown-area Republican, says that it’s not truth — even if the student doesn’t believe in evolutionary theory — the student must turn in work that accurately reflects what is taught. However, if students were assigned a report based on historic figures, they could turn in a paper on a historical figure, such as Moses or Mohammed, Ginter said.
HB 164, known as the Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019:
- Requires public schools to give students the same access to facilities if they want to meet for religious expression as they’d give secular groups.
- Removes a provision that allows school districts to limit religious expression to lunch periods or other non-instructional times.
- Allows students to engage in religious expression before, during and after school hours to the same extent as a student in secular activities or expression.
- Prohibits schools from restricting a student from engaging in religious expression in completion of homework, artwork and other assignments.