Ohio‘s House of Representatives has passed a bill that would allow students to turn in work that is scientifically inaccurate and not be penalized for it as long as their religion’s teachings seemingly contradict science, The Columbus Dispatch reports. The proposed bill provides a slew of other protections for religious students as well.
House Bill 164, also known as the Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019, passed the House on Wednesday by a 61-31 vote. It will now go to the Senate for consideration.
The bill lays out a host of conditions and requirement for schools to follow when it comes to protecting the religious liberties of students. But one particular provision of the bill is raising eyebrows.
The language in the bill abolishes “any restrictions on students from engaging in religious expression in completion of homework, artwork or other assignments.” What that means is that a student could, for example, turn in work that claims that the Earth is 6,000-years-old, as some Christian denominations teach, rather than 4.5 billion years, like the overwhelming majority of accepted science teaches, and not be penalized for it. Similarly, a student could turn in work that claims that Homo Sapiens were created by a benevolent god, rather than having evolved from a common ancestor shared by humans and other apes.
Similarly, a student could not be penalized for turning in a poem about God for a creative writing assignment.
Whether or not an issue like this has ever come up in Ohio is unclear. A search of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) list of cases they’ve represented with regard to religious freedom doesn’t turn up anything from Ohio. However, the group did represent at least one student who was penalized for an assignment that referenced their religion. In 2007, a Pennsylvania second grader wrote a story about Easter and redemption, only to have it rejected because it referenced God. The Ohio law would seem to protect a child like this if such a case ever happened in the Buckeye State.
Elsewhere in the bill, schools are instructed to give student religious groups the same access to the same facilities used by secular groups and lifts bans limiting students’ promotion of religion to non-instructional periods.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Tim Ginter, says that the bill is simply meant to clarify existing Ohio law as to what can and can’t go on in schools regarding religion. However, an opponent of the bill, Democrat Phillip Robinson, called the legislation unnecessary.
“I appreciate the sentiment. But we already protect religious expression,” he said.