New Ohio Law Would Provide Religious Students With A Safe Space From Facts

Ohio just decided to make their kids dumber. The state House of Representatives passed the Student Religious Liberties Act this week. The legislation will permit students to answer questions with any nonsense they want as long as it's what they think Jesus would do.

The bill passed the Republican-controlled House 61 to 31 or eleventy million to zero if you reject Satan's math. It will now move to the Senate, which religious-pandering Republicans also control. This is the relevant crazy-making portion of the text:

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.

Ohio Rep. Timothy Ginter insists critics of the law are just possessed by liberal demons. The law will not in fact permit what it clearly says it will allow. Don't worry. Students can't refuse to answer test questions because the material conflicts with their religious views, but they can denounce their teachers as heretics. Gitner offers as a hypothetical Christian and Jewish students who believe (incorrectly) that the world was created just 6,000 years ago and is barely older than The Phantom of the Opera. He doesn't even bother to include anything a Muslim student might believe that also ignores observable scientific evidence.

The Simpsons -

GITNER: 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

However, Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist at Ohio's ACLU, has actually read the bill Gitner sponsored. He was able to comprehend the words "shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student's work." (We're mostly talking about public schools so a student's work shouldn't contain "religious content" in the first place.). Daniels contends students could very well answer questions with religious dogma and teachers would let it slide. They have college loan payments to make and don't want to get whipped by the Bible belt.

DANIELS: In a small town, in a small county, where these issues tend to attract more attention, how much is a teacher going to push back on a student's religious beliefs and create a controversy in a classroom?

Charles Haynes is the founding director at the Religious Freedom Center at the Freedom Forum Institute of redundant doublespeak studies. He also thinks we godless heathens are worried about nothing. Students still have to learn actual scientific facts but they'll just have the freedom to waste valuable class time disputing them.

HAYNES: They're not let off the hook from learning what is being taught. They don't have to believe it, they don't have to accept it, but they have to know it.

Yeah, religious students just need to learn that some people -- you know, like, scientists! -- think the Earth is 4.5 billion years old (give or take 50 million years). But it's OK for them to call bullshit on the fundamental scientific principles supporting this conclusion. A teacher can't dock the student points for offering alternative facts. Since when is a classroom open mic night anyway? The age of the damn planet is not like the Oxford theory of Shakespeare authorship.

Haynes points out that federal law already protects a student's religious expression in class, but because conservatives love new laws, the Student Religious Liberties Act just "reinforces" existing policy. I don't believe that or accept it, but I guess I have to know it.

The Ohio legislation will also ignore any semblance of separation between church and state. Here's some more goodies the bill offers:

Requires districts to ensure religious groups have the same access to facilities as do secular groups

Bars school districts from limiting students' religious expression to noninstructional times

Allows districts to provide a moment of silence each school day for prayer, reflection or meditation but bars them from requiring that students or employees participate

Ginter claims he sponsored the bill because "protecting" the rights of students to publicly express their (Christian, he means Christian) faith in school "encourages hope" against the looming threats of school violence and teen suicide. The law doesn't increase my hope that we'll manage to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, which is why school shootings happen. "Religious freedom" rarely if ever translates into acceptance of queer youth, whose attempted suicide rates are significantly higher than heterosexuals. But there I go with my God-defying facts again.

[ Newsweek / Washington Post ]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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