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Ohio Passes Student Religious Liberties Act

December 6th, 2019

The Ohio House recently passed a religious liberties act that has received considerable attention due to how it could be interpreted.
The Ohio House recently passed a religious liberties act that has received considerable attention due to how it could be interpreted.

A current rumor persists that the Ohio legislature is considering a bill that will allow students to give wrong answers due to their religious beliefs. In reality, on November 13, 2019, the Ohio House of Representatives passed House Bill 164, the “Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019,” which prompted numerous headlines that described the bill in this way. These articles suggested that the law guarded students against being penalized if their work is scientifically wrong provided the reasoning is due to their religious beliefs. In reality, the effect of this bill is slightly different

The Contents of the Bill

The actual religious liberties act was more subtle in regards to its language. The act states that no school district board of education or other governing entity can prohibit students from engaging in religious expression in completing homework, artwork, or assignments. Instead, these entities are required to calculate this work based on ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance. The law also does the following

  • Removes a provision that allows school districts to limit religious expression to lunch-time or other non-instructional periods
  • Requires public schools to give students access to the same facilities whether the students want to meet for religious or secular purposes
  • 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.

Response to the Bill

The religious liberties act has been met with both support and criticism.

The American Civil Liberties Union has responded to the regulation in a more uncertain way.  The ACLU chief lobbyist of Ohio has commented that while the bill removes some restrictions on students’ religious rights, teachers might be prohibited from docking points for incorrect answers that are based in a student’s religion

The bill’s sponsor has commented that children face a great amount of pressure at schools these days like drug use and student violence. The bill, the sponsor argues, would allow religious expression in a positive way. The sponsor has also commented that students under the bill would still be required to provide answers confirming the curriculum as taught. For example, a student with a biology assignment would be required to turn in an assignment on evolution that accurately reflects what is taught.

Additional criticism of the religious liberties act has included that the act is redundant. For example, children are currently protected in Ohio if they want to begin religious clubs at school and read texts that express their religious beliefs. Because religious freedom is already protected at the federal and state level, Ohio legislators have questioned whether the regulation repeats religious freedoms found in the Constitution or whether the bill violates the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment. Even the bill’s sponsor has stated that it is a clarification rather than an expansion of religious rights

The Goal of the Universal Life Church

Ohio’s religious liberties act is a unique regulation that calls into question the exact boundaries between church and state in the classroom. Even though religious freedom was established in the Constitution, the Universal Life Church’s blog focuses on describing some of the most noteworthy cases that call into question the exact role that religion plays in the classroom.

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