The Ohio House of Representatives has passed a bill that would prevent public school students from being penalized for their religious beliefs in science (and, I presume any other) class. In other words, a student in a geology class could assert that the Earth was 6,000 years old…a student taking astronomy could claim that the stars are simply luminous elements that move above the flat surface of the Earth above the sun, the moon, and the planets…and not be penalized on their research papers or tests.
So…I have some questions…
WOULD A TEACHER HAVE TO ACCEPT ALL RELIGIOUS BELIEFS?
If one student claims that both male and female humans were created after all the other creatures (Genesis 1:1 through 2:3) and another one claims that male humans were created before plants and animals, and female human beings were created after (Genesis 2:4-2:25) would they both be entitled to a correct grade?
How about a student who claimed that the Universe (and the Earth) was created by the god Ptah, who brought things into existence just by imagining them? Or that the Earth was created by the god Atum, who had sex with his [sic] own feminine energy and brought forth other gods…who then had sex and gave birth to the air, water, humans and everything else?
The Ohio House on Wednesday passed the “Student Religious Liberties Act.” Under the law, students can’t be penalized if their work is scientifically wrong as long as the reasoning is because of their religious beliefs.
Instead, students are graded on substance and relevance.
Every Republican in the House supported the bill. It now moves to the Republican-controlled Senate.
WHAT IS THE POINT OF HAVING ANY SCIENTIFIC CURRICULUM?
Do we accept answers from students who variously claim that the Universe/Earth is 41,000 years old, 24 trillion years old, or 6,000 years old? If so, what’s the point of having any scientific curriculum dealing with the age of the Earth?
The potential for problems is virtually limitless. People believe all sorts of falsehoods based on their religious beliefs — that the earth is flat and is the center of the universe, for example. To sacrifice the truth on the altar of religion is a betrayal of the school’s duty to educate.
SHOULD STUDENTS BE ALLOWED TO IGNORE WHAT THEY DON’T BELIEVE?
The following bullets explain parts of the proposed law.
HB 164, known as the Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019:
- Requires public schools to give students the same access to facilities if they want to meet for religious expression as they’d give secular groups.
- Removes a provision that allows school districts to limit religious expression to lunch periods or other non-instructional times.
- Allows students to engage in religious expression before, during and after school hours to the same extent as a student in secular activities or expression.
- Prohibits schools from restricting a student from engaging in religious expression in completion of homework, artwork and other assignments.
Bullet #1: The federal equal access law already provides for allowing religious groups to meet if secular groups are given the same rights.
Bullets #2, 3, and 4: Students are already allowed to express their own religious beliefs in school based on the First Amendment. This does not mean, however, that students can disrupt the learning process to express their religious beliefs. Additionally, the First Amendment gives students the right to express their religious beliefs in their work, while still being graded based on the requirements of the assignment.
In other words, this is a law looking for a reason. Students are guaranteed by Federal Law and the Constitution the right to express their beliefs and to believe what they want. This does not mean, however, that they should ignore accepted science if they don’t believe it.
So, if this bill passes the Senate, teachers will not be able to mark religious beliefs incorrect if they differ from current scientific facts?
On the other hand, Daniels said that if a student submitted biology homework saying the earth is 10,000 years old, as some creationists believe, the teacher cannot dock points.
“Under HB 164, the answer is ‘no,’ as this legislation clearly states the instructor ‘shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work,” he said.
There is no need for this. A student who is assigned a paper on the structure of the Solar System does not give up their right to believe in a flat Earth, or a Geocentric universe, or that the Earth was created on the back of a giant turtle, simply by writing that science accepts the Earth revolves around the Sun, which revolves around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. There is no educationally sound reason to insist that students not be held accountable for scientific facts as are currently accepted. Why even teach science (which is, I suspect, one of the reasons for this bill in the first place — an anti-science attitude)?
WHICH RELIGIONS ARE THE RIGHT ONES?
There is a reason that the founders fought to keep Church and State separate. Once we allow religion to interfere with the public school curriculum we would have to deal with questions like
- “whose religion is accepted as accurate for tests?”
- “who decides which religions are allowed as sources of content?”
- “which religions are to be defined as cults or unacceptable? In other words, which religions are not really religions?”
Keeping religion out of public school doesn’t deny students the right to their own beliefs…it guarantees it.
Students can believe what they want, despite what they are taught, but schools, or the adults in them, cannot decide which beliefs are acceptable and which are not. Public schools have a responsibility to teach secular science as we know it. Parents who don’t want their children exposed to reality should home school them, or send them to a religious school — at their own expense — which presents the religious beliefs they agree with.
The Ohio Senate would be wise to reject this bill.