Since I’ve started working with the Secular Coalition for Ohio, I’ve been getting updates on proposed laws in the Ohio legislature that could be at odds with the separation of church and state. House Bills 303 and 304 were referred to committee in October and if passed by the Republican controlled state house, each would give students in public schools cover for religiously based bigotry not normally allowed.
House Bill 303 “Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2013” is a way to give “religious freedom” cover to religious bigotry in public schools. That way Timmy and Susie Q Public can be anti-choice, anti-gay, and against any religion not Christianity in their school activities and the school can’t really do anything about it.
Sec. 3320.03. No school district board of education, governing authority of a community school established under Chapter 3314. of the Revised Code, or governing body of a 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.
If Susie does a book report on the Holy Bible for her English class then the teacher can’t fail her unless the report was outside the assignment (like if she was assigned a specific book but she used the Bible). The only time such “religious expressions” have been responded to negatively by school officials is when those activities have been outside the assignments. It is a law in search of a problem.
Federal court rulings already allow students to have freedom of religious expression as long as it isn’t disruptive.
House Bill 304 would give cover to student formed school clubs to be bigoted as long as the bigotry is religiously based.
(B) A school district, community school established under Chapter 3314., STEM school established under Chapter 3326., or a college-preparatory boarding school established under Chapter 3328. of the Revised Code shall give the same access to school facilities to students who wish to conduct a meeting for the purpose of engaging in religious expression as is given to secular student groups, without regard to the content of a student’s or group’s expression.
Like HB 303, 304 is a law in search of a problem. Federal court and laws already require schools to give equal access to their facilities. The real intent of HB 304 is to give cover to bigotry.
The problem is schools aren’t in the habit of supporting clubs or activities that are bigoted, support illegal activities, or promote taking away rights from a certain group of people. You will never see a Legalize Weed club, a club that promotes taking rights away from women, a Junior KKK club and you will never find an anti-Christian club (and no an atheist club isn’t anti-Christian).
It seems when religion is involved, Republicans like to try and force bigoted religious activities into the public schools under the cover of “religious freedom” as if that is going to change the reality of their out-of-step views.