Governor Kasich’s Stealth Religious Tactics Draw Complaints

photo of Ohio Gov Kasich
Ohio Governor John Kasich

A new Ohio law gave tax money to groups who mentored public school children, which is a good thing. However Gov. Kasich decided to force mentoring programs to partner with faith-based groups. Kasich believes, wrongly, that the public school should be where children get their religious education.

House Bill 483 was ‘legislation that makes appropriation changes and minor policy changes as part of the Mid-Biennial Review (MBR), a package of bills that strives to initiate reforms to state spending, agency operations, and state policies and programs.’ Tucked inside HB 483 was a new program called “Career Advising And Mentoring Program” that would grant tax payer money to groups who helped mentor public school children.

Recently during a meeting with prospective grant applicants, the previously unknown religious group requirement was revealed:

Gov. John Kasich’s $10 million plan to bring mentors into Ohio’s schools for students now has a surprise religious requirement – one that goes beyond what is spelled out in the legislation authorizing it.

Any school district that wants a piece of that state money must partner with both a church and a business – or a faith-based organization and a non-profit set up by a business to do community service.

No business and no faith-based partner means no state dollars.

“You must include a faith-based partner,” United Way of Greater Cleveland President Bill Kitson, told potential applicants at an information session the United Way hosted Thursday here in Cleveland.

Schools need a religious partner if they want any of Gov. Kasich’s student mentorship money

The problem is the religious requirement was never part of the program when it was included and debated in HB 483.

American’s United points this out:

As a private citizen, Kasich’s entitled to that perspective. But his decision to use his office to force public schools, which are by law secular entities, to partner with houses of worship and religious charities raises serious legal questions. It’s also a surprise to the state legislators who voted to adopt the program.

According to the Plain Dealer, the bill’s original language categorized faith-based organizations with businesses and civic groups as potential mentorship partners. The paper also noted that Kasich, and the Department of Education, also didn’t emphasize the possibility of religious mentorships as they stumped for the bill. Kasich, while describing the program in his State of the State address this year, instead chose to focus on secular mentorship models with organizations like the United Way.

That means legislators never voted to approve Kasich’s faith-based requirement for public schools.

Instead, the troublesome addition got tacked onto the bill after it passed both chambers of the state legislature. And there’s evidence that the advisory board the governor created to design and oversee the program is responsible for the measure. Two conservative Christian pastors serve on that board, and administration officials admitted that the requirement was added after meetings with board members.

Problematic Partnerships: Ohio Initiative Compels Public Schools To Link Up With Churches

The problem with what the Governor did is forcing partnerships with churches in order to be eligible for the money.

The Ohio ACLU is also looking at the new requirement:

“Not only does this clearly interfere with the religious freedom of Ohio families, it places an unconstitutional burden on our public schools and erects another roadblock for at-risk students to access educational opportunities.” [ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link] said. “As guardians of the First Amendment in Ohio, we will launch a full inquiry into this matter.”

Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio, said, “Conditioning a public school’s receipt of government funds on collaboration with a religious organization raises serious constitutional concerns. Although improving educational outcomes within our communities is an important goal, it cannot be achieved by unconstitutional means.”

ACLU Launches Inquiry into Governor’s Mentorship Program for Ohio’s Schools

A public school is not and should not be for religious education – period.

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