Ethics Quiz: “Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019”

What new fresh Hell is this?

Perhaps not quite what it appears to be. The mainstream media, hostile as ever to religion, and of course to Republicans, making this a happy twofer, widely described the bill recently passed in the Ohio House as “Under the law, students can’t be penalized if their work is scientifically wrong as long as the reasoning is because of their religious beliefs. Instead, students are graded on substance and relevance.”

Well, that would be crazy. Such a bone-headed law would allow a religious student to state a non-fact as fact (no, the Earth just isn’t 6,000 years old no matter what Williams Jennings Bryan said) but a non-religious student repeating the same error would be graded down. But is this really what the “Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019” requires?

Here’s what it says:

Sec. 3320.03. No school district board of education, governing authority of a community school established under Chapter 3314. of the Revised Code, governing body of a Sec. STEM school established under Chapter 3326. of the Revised Code, or board of trustees of a college-preparatory boarding school established under Chapter 3328. of the Revised Code 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.

That’s very different from the media spin. Notably, the bill does not mention tests and quizzes, which the reports misleadingly imply would also be covered by the law  if it passes the Senate and is signed by the governor. No, there will not be one answer for religious students and another for the secular-minded.

If the potential law only covers homework and in-class assignments, aren’t the grades for these always supposed to be based on substance and relevance? Why is this law even necessary?

Rep. Timothy Ginter (R, of course ), the Ohio legislator who proposed the bill,  was quoted  as saying: “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.” Yet Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said the measure does in fact allow students to answer homework questions and other assignments incorrectly, based on religious doctrine rather than science, saying,  “Under HB 164, the answer is ‘no,’ as this legislation clearly states the instructor ‘shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work.’ ”

(A question for another time and post: why isn’t the ACLU on the other side of this controversy?)

Amber Epling, spokeswoman for Ohio House Democrats, added that based on the analysis from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, she believes students can be scientifically incorrect based on religion and not be penalized…in homework and assignments, Amber, not tests and quizzes.

Should a Quaker student be able to write without threat of penalty in an assigned essay about World War II that the United States should not have fought, and explain why using the tenets of her faith? Of course—but that should be true with or without the Ohio law. Similarly, a student asked to write an essay about same sex marriage should not be penalized for saying that her religion takes the position that such marriages are not valid and violate God’s will, with or without an Ohio-style law.

Ginter also has said  that he sponsored the bill because he believes protecting students’ rights to express their faith encourages hope in the face of violence in schools with rising rates of drug abuse and suicide. Ooooo, I think that crosses the line into state sponsorship of religion territory. A better statement of his was this:

“This bill is not an expansion, but rather a clarification, of those liberties already afforded our students in the Constitution and seeks to remove ambiguity for our schools who are often confused as to what students can and cannot do in regard to religious expression, by providing a pathway they can follow that keeps them within constitutional guidelines.”

That raises the legitimate question of how often teachers engage in viewpoint indoctrination masquerading as education, because, to be fair, they can’t tell the difference.

The range of opinions about what the bill means and how it would change how science is taught is enough for me to conclude that “Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019” is too vague and confusing to meet Constitutional standards, but I’m willing to be convinced otherwise.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Is the “Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019” justifiable, or does it create more problems than it solves?


Pointer: Tim Hayes

Facts: Washington Post

19 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: “Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019”

  1. “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.”

    Caramba! Do we need a law that says that? Shouldn’t that be basic educational common sense? But maybe we do. Our thirteen year old grand daughter is distraught that Trump is ruining the environment. She’s clearly being indoctrinated in seventh grade by alarmist teachers. And yes, Climate is a religion these days.

  2. “Is the “Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019” justifiable, or does it create more problems than it solves?”

    If it’s meant to guide the same people who see guns in half-chewed pop tarts, I think you have your answer.

  3. The word penalize has a very clear meaning.

    As someone who has graded collegiate work, tests homework, quizzes etc, no student is penalized for any answer.

    Students do not start at 100 and lose points for incorrect answers or unanswered questions. Students are given questions and rewarded with points for correct provable answers. Sometimes students deliver a powerful fact based rationale for an answer that will earn them points even if their answer was not the test makers “best” answer. In Economics, which is what I taught, there is an old joke that if you lay all the economists end to end you would never reach a conclusion. The truth in that statement is answers to questions relating to expectations as to future events is often predicated on what school of thought you employ. If a student gives me a supply side response to a question anticipating a demand side answer (many test banks have a Keynesian orientation) it does not make the answer incorrect if it can be argued effectively.

    I treat biblical teachings reverently but the Old Testament is rife with time frames that make no sense in a modern world. The idea that the world is 6000 years old, in today’s terms, would require the writers of the Old Testament to believe the Earth revolved around the Sun which they did not.

    However, if you believe the Earth is the center of the universe then the time it takes for elements in the sky to return to the same point could be tens or even hundreds of thousands of years by today’s measurement of what constitutes a year. Therefore, demanding students use a common measurement tool we avoid the biblical issues.

    For those not aware college courses use test bank questions prepared by others to avoid challenges that the professor use language unfamiliar to certain cultures.

    There are tests that penalize students for wrong answers to offset guessing ( pick C) but these are typically admissions based tests such as the LSAT.

  4. It shouldn’t be necessary. The fact that some people think it is necessary is due to teachers and administrators who are not well-versed in student rights and have no backbones to stand up to intolerant squeaky wheels who threaten lawsuits over any acknowledgement of religion.

    This has been building for decades. In the 1990s, my father and stepmother instructed my kid brother that, if quizzed or tested on anything dealing with evolution, he should write, “The TEXTBOOK answer is [insert however many millions of years they were saying the Earth was back then]”

    As you correctly pointed out, a student should be able to write an essay defending his or her position on a subject using religious beliefs (conscientious objection during WWII due to Quaker pacifism is a great topic, by the way) without being mocked, derided or penalized.

    Perhaps a better solution is to set aside a day prior to the beginning of the school year to instruct teachers on what rights students have in the classroom, what teaching actually involves and what it does not and, perhaps, insert an Educator’s Code of Ethics.

    Then the lawmakers can stay out of it.

    • “The TEXTBOOK answer is [insert however many millions of years they were saying the Earth was back then]”

      This is a brilliant way to respond. I’m the mother of the child who asked in class, “Which theory of evolution?” Then went to outline main theories. The teacher wasn’t happy and it became another parent-teacher meeting. Another reason we chose homeschooling.

  5. I would hope that such a law would not be necessary. However, if it is currently a bill up for consideration in the Ohio State Senate, then somebody must have felt it necessary. The question is why. If there was a provable trend in teachers throughout the state grading answers involving religion or beliefs more or less harshly based off of those beliefs, then maybe such a law is necessary, if more local solutions have failed. If there is no evidence that the bill would actually affect anything, say it was written because of what the author had heard on opinion shows, then such a bill would not be a necessity. One thing that is clear is that the bill would prohibit grading on religion alone, in homework and assignments.

  6. I’m sorry to place this request here, but for the life of me I cannot find the recent post about the very realistic phone scam you suffered that had you going via email confirmations and everything.

  7. It appears that the critics are deliberately misrepresenting the bill. The bill appears to only prevent a teacher from rejecting an assignment because it mentions God.

    Notably, the bill does not mention tests and quizzes,

    I think it is incorrect to say it only applies to homework and classwork, but not tests and quizzes. Tests and quizzes would seem to fall under the “…or other written or oral assignments” clause. Oral or written tests and quizzes are indeed class assignments, although explicit clarity here may be worthwhile.

    Rep. Timothy Ginter “…They’re still going to be tested in the class and they cannot ignore the class material.”

    Gary Daniels… “Under HB 164, the answer is ‘no,’ as this legislation clearly states the instructor ‘shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work.’ ”

    Daniels is wrong here. A student could not be penalized for expressing disagreement. However, they still need to correctly state what answer they disagree with to get credit for the question, be it on homework, classwork or written/oral test or quiz.

    A student need not agree with the vast majority of evolutionary biologists to correctly answer that humans evolved 1 million years ago according to current scientific consensus. Clunky language such as “according to current scientific consensus” also does not need to be explicitly used, however, an effective teacher will communicate the need for scientific fluency with controversial topics at the start of the unit to avoid alienating students.

    This actually works in reverse. A comparative religion course could ask “Young earth creationists believe that the earth was created in approximately how many years”; one need not agree to factually answer “6000 years”.

    The purpose of the bill is to enforce the First Amendment protections of religious expression in public schools. One does not need to believe that captive students expressing religious beliefs is a good thing to acknowledge they have a constitutional right to do so. The law, however, forces teachers to have the integrity and courage while teaching and grading controversial topics. It requires they engage with non-disruptive disagreement, and puts a barrier in place against rote indoctrination.

    Courage and integrity are in short supply in the profession, so teachers resort to misrepresenting the bill. Critics state, sadly honestly, they will not challenge students who answer assignment questions incorrectly do to religiously-based opinions if the bill is passed; they misrepresent, however, that the bill would require them to do so.

  8. The wording leads me to think it was an attempt to validate expression of religious ideas and images in some topics, but the real problem is that the law will be misapplied- guaranteed. It will be used to justify fads in the sciences like extremism in climate change, which has continued to change for 4 billion years. But once you protect special treatment in homework, doing the same in tests for expedience or indoctrination is not far behind. The teachers as a mass are not likely to be able to thread that needle and be sure the common sense is learned and not the mass hysteria one. This will make a BIGGER mess.

    And how will the enforcement handle less acceptable faiths like Islam, Scientology, and Satanism? What about people who believe as a matter of faith that climate change is a cult? That’s a better question.

  9. “Is the “Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019” justifiable, or does it create more problems than it solves?”

    Since reading all the lawmakers’ comments left me more confused than I was to start with, I’ll have to go with the second choice.

    Some of these things just make my head hurt.

  10. The first time this law allows a student to defy current groupthink about gender, sexuality, or abortion, it will be repealed.

    “It is against my religion to call a man a woman. Therefore I will not use a preferred pronoun.”

    “My religion says homosexuality is wrong. I will write my sociology essay defying gay rights.”

    “My religion calls abortion murder. My homework regarding methods of birth control will reflect that.”

    Oh, I could go on…there are better examples that I just do not have time for right now.

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