Ohio: Tell Your State Rep: Don’t Privilege Religion in Public Schools!
December 10, 2014
The Ohio House of Representatives could vote at any time on a pair of bills that would create privileges for religious belief in public schools – and only a swell of public opposition can stop them.
House Bill 303 would allow public school students to pray and engage in other forms of overt religious promotion before, during, and after school hours in the same manner and to the same extent that students are permitted to engage in secular activities or expression.
House Bill 304 would require schools to give students who want to meet for religious gatherings the same access to school facilities as other student groups.
These bills are unnecessary and dangerous. Fundamental protections for the rights to freedom of religion or belief in public schools already exist in the Ohio and United States Constitutions, and have been expanded on in a series of Supreme Court decisions. Students have the right to express their religious or other beliefs, as long as they do not interrupt educational instruction. They also have the right to form both religious and secular groups on an equal basis. And school districts have the right, if desired, to provide a daily moment of silence for prayer or meditation.
The true purpose of these bills is to provide a special privilege for religious belief in public schools. If these bills pass, there is almost no limit to the behavior that a school would be required to accommodate so long as students maintain it is religiously motivated. For instance, students could:
- Justify bullying other students based on their religious beliefs;
- Gain exemption from co-ed physical education because their religion forbids mixing of sexes;
- Require schools to facilitate their proselytizing to other students;
- Answer science or historical assignments with religious dogma, while teachers would be prevented from grading them poorly;
- Get out of certain assignments altogether based on their religious beliefs.
The students of Ohio don’t need legislation to protect or enhance their right to religious expression. The Center for Inquiry (CFI) urges you to write or call your state representative right now and tell them to reject House Bills 303 and 304!