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Religious exemption bill that allows students to give wrong answers in school passes Ohio House

Students reading from Bibles
Photo: Shutterstock

The Ohio House just passed a bill that would allow students to give the wrong answers in school without being penalized, as long as those answers are an expression of their religious beliefs, advocates say.

Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019 passed the state house on Wednesday and will now go to the state senate. All Ohio House Republicans voted for the bill.

Related: Ohio lawmakers resist including LGBT to those covered in hate crime laws

The bill contains several measures that allow for more religion in schools, like banning school districts from limiting religious expression to lunch and other break times and requiring schools to give more resources to religious clubs and activities.

But one provision is drawing more attention than the others. The bill says that no school will “prohibit a student from engaging in religious expression in the completion of homework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments.”

It goes on to say that “grades and scores… shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work.”

Liberals say that that means that teachers have to accept the wrong answers on assignments from students to respect their religious freedom.

“This legislation clearly states the instructor shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work,” Gary Daniels of the ACLU of Ohio told

He said that, for example, if a student said in their homework that the Earth is 10,000 years old – which is about 4.5 billion years short of what scientists believe the age of the Earth is – the teacher couldn’t take off points if that is part of the student’s religious beliefs.

Ohio House Democratic spokesperson Amber Epling said that that is how she understands the bill as well: “they cannot be rewarded or penalized for the religious content in their assignments.”

Ohio Rep. Timothy Ginter (R), the bill’s sponsor, said that that’s not true, that the bill specifies that assignments can still be graded on “ordinary academic standards of using substance and relevance.”

He said that the point was, for example, to allow a student to turn in a report on Moses if they had to research a historical figure. Since there is no information about Moses outside of religious texts and archaeology cannot even confirm his existence, according to archaeologist William G. Dever, Ginter is effectively saying that the bill will force a teacher to accept the hypothetical student’s report as true because of the student’s religious beliefs.

Ohio Democrats say that the bill isn’t needed because the Constitution already protects religious freedom in schools and that the protections go beyond religious freedom.

“Schools may teach about religion, explain the tenets about various faiths, discuss the role of religion in history, literature, science — and not for the purpose of anti-science – but in science, and other endeavors and the like,” said Rep. Catherine Ingram (D). “As long as it has a secular purpose to promote educational goals, and there is no effort to promote or inhibit any religious beliefs.”

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