The state of Ohio has passed a bill protecting students’ religious freedoms in public schools. The legislation gives students the freedom to pray in school along with the allowance of religious content in school assignments.
Last Friday, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed House Bill 164, also referred to as the Student Religious Liberties Act. The law passed the House in a vote of 90-3 and unanimously in the Senate.
According to the bill, public schools must treat religious clubs the same way they treat secular clubs.
“A student enrolled in a public school may engage in religious expression before, during, and after school hours in the same manner and to the same extent that a student is permitted to engage in secular activities or expression before, during, and after school hours,” the legislation reads.
Additionally, the bill state that schools cannot prohibit religious content in assignments. This means that teachers cannot grade students’ work based on content alone.
“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.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, a law firm dedicated to handling religious freedom cases, celebrated the state’s decision. Senior Counsel Matt Sharp called the ruling “a win for everyone.”
“Ohio’s Student Religious Liberties Act protects students’ right to express their religious beliefs. [It] ensures that schools can’t punish or give students a poor grade simply because they choose to express a religious viewpoint when completing a class assignment,” Sharp wrote.
“Ohio’s Student Religious Liberties Act reinforces that students don’t give up their First Amendment rights when they step through the doors of a school. In fact, it’s a win for everyone.”
Not everyone was excited about Ohio’s passing of House Bill 164. Ohio Chief Lobbyist Gary Daniels of the American Civil Liberties Union claimed the bill was “unnecessary.”
“Indeed, students have the fundamental right to pray and discuss their religious beliefs with fellow students as long as they are not disruptive. They can already express their religious beliefs in homework, reports, essays, and artwork…,” Daniels said.
“[Students] may distribute religious literature to fellow students, subject to typical time, place, and manner restrictions imposed on all such speech. They can participate in religious events such as ‘See You at the Pole’… on school property.”