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