Children Should be Taught Facts, not Religious Beliefs, in Ohio Public School Classrooms

creationism vs science

Cartoon by Steve Benson

Over the weekend, I spent some “quality” social media time going around and around with local Evangelical Christians about whether Christian beliefs belonged in public school classrooms. These discussions were fueled by Ohio House Bill 164 — legislation that prohibits teachers from docking points on students’ homework or tests if they answer questions with religious answers, and not facts.

The Washington Post reports:

Did lawmakers in Ohio’s House pass legislation that says it’s okay for students to be wrong in science class as long as their reasoning is based on religious beliefs?

That’s what critics in the state are saying is allowed in the “Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019” (see text below), which passed this week 61 to 31 in the Republican-dominated legislative chamber and will move on to the GOP-controlled Senate.

….

The legislation, HB 164, would do the following if it became law, according to an analysis from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, a bipartisan agency that provides the Ohio General Assembly with budget and fiscal analysis:

  • Allow students to engage in religious expression in the completion of homework, artwork or other assignments
  • Prohibit public schools from rewarding or penalizing a student based on the religious content of a student’s homework, artwork or other assignments.

….

Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said the measure does in fact allow students to answer homework questions and other assignments incorrectly, based on religious doctrine rather than science — and not be marked wrong. Cleveland.com quoted him as saying: “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.’ ”

It also quoted Amber Epling, spokeswoman for Ohio House Democrats, as saying that based on the analysis from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, she believes students can be scientifically incorrect based on religion and not be penalized.

Numerous states in recent years have considered scores of anti-science bills — usually aimed at affecting classroom discussion on evolution and climate change. Those measures typically take one of two approaches, according to the nonprofit National Center for Science Education, which seeks to inform the public on scientific and educational aspects of controversies surrounding the teaching of evolution and climate change. The first approach includes measures that aim to repeal state science standards or challenge science textbooks. The other includes legislative attempts to legitimize the practice of teachers presenting unscientific criticism of scientific principles.

….

[Rep. Timothy] Ginter said in a statement that he sponsored the bill because he believes protecting students’ rights to express their faith encourages hope in the face of violence in schools and rising rates of drug abuse and suicide.
“This bill is not an expansion, but rather a clarification, of those liberties already afforded our students in the Constitution and seeks to remove ambiguity for our schools who are often confused as to what students can and cannot do in regard to religious expression, by providing a pathway they can follow that keeps them within constitutional guidelines,” Ginter said.

[Gary] Daniels, who spoke against the bill to lawmakers, told The Washington Post that he was concerned the legislation would tie teachers’ hands if students ignored an assignment’s instructions and instead stated their religious beliefs. Given the bill’s vague language, Daniels said many teachers would let students’ actions slide.

“In a small town, in a small county, where these issues tend to attract more attention, how much is a teacher going to push back on a student’s religious beliefs and create a controversy in a classroom?” Daniels said.

Sec. 3320.03 of HB 164 states:

No school district board of education, governing authority of a community school established under Chapter 3314. of the Revised Code, governing body of a Sec. STEM school established under Chapter 3326. of the Revised Code, or board of trustees of a college-preparatory boarding school established under Chapter 3328. of the Revised Code shall prohibit a student from engaging in religious expression in the completion of homework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments. 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.

Rep. Ginter, the sponsor of HB 164, represents the 5th Ohio House District, which encompasses all of Columbiana County. Ginter has been an ordained Evangelical minister for thirty-nine years. He received his training at Nazarene Bible College and Mt. Vernon Nazarene University. Both institutions are affiliated with the Churches of the Nazarene — a predominantly Evangelical denomination.

It is likely, then, that Rep. Ginter believes in creationism. Ginter stated in a recent interview:

Under House Bill 164, a Christian or Jewish student would not be able to say my religious texts teach me that the world is 6,000 years old, so I don’t have to answer this question. They’re still going to be tested in the class and they cannot ignore the class material.

Ginter also said:

This bill is not an expansion, but rather a clarification, of those liberties already afforded our students in the Constitution and seeks to remove ambiguity for our schools who are often confused as to what students can and cannot do in regard to religious expression, by providing a pathway they can follow that keeps them within constitutional guidelines.

Something tells me Ginter had his fingers crossed behind his back. Does anyone seriously believe that HB164 is anything more than an attempt by Ohio House Republicans to give students and teachers the “freedom” to insert religious magic and nonsense into science discussions?

 creationist and a doctor

Cartoon by Gary Trudeau

Suppose a teacher asks on a test this question: how old is the universe? The correct answer is: approximately 13.7 billion years old. An Evangelical student taking this test would be able to, at the very least, give the correct answer AND a wrong answer at the same time: 6,023 years old. What remains unknown is whether, due to his sincerely-held religious beliefs, the student could skip giving the correct answer, answering instead, 6,023 years old, and have it not be counted wrong. Imagine the dilemma faced by high school science teachers, especially in small, rural communities. Taking a stand against interjecting religious ignorance into their classes would surely lead to outrage from offended Evangelicals, and likely lead to their teaching contracts not being renewed. Such teachers, knowing the lay of the land, so to speak, would likely cave to pressure from creationists. Rare is the teacher willing to stand for truth when tied to a pyre and surrounded by outraged Evangelicals with lit torches in their hands.

Ohio state government is currently controlled by right-wing Christian Republicans. One need only watch what this cabal has done on the abortion issue over the past decade to see what Ohio Republicans want to do concerning “religious freedom.” They will not rest until Christian prayers are uttered by teachers at the start of each day or sent school-wide over school intercoms, teachers begin the day with readings from the Christian Bible, abstinence-only sex education is taught in health classes, and young-earth creationism and/or its gussied up sister intelligent design, is taught science classrooms. In other words, Republicans will not rest until they drag Ohio children back good old days of the 1950s.

As I discussed HB 164 on social media, I was troubled by the number of local Christians who had no problem with sectarian religious instruction in public schools. I thought, “surely even Christians can see that this bill is a bad idea.” Nope. Local Evangelicals, in particular, believe public schools need to be reclaimed for God. Sunday after Sunday, these Evangelicals hear evolution, global climate change, sex education, LGBTQ rights, and secularism criticized, condemned, and demonized from church pulpits. Putting into practice the nonsense they hear on Sundays, Evangelicals flood social media with posts and memes promoting religious ignorance. This ignorance is bound to spill over into our public schools.

HB 164, cosponsored by my representative Craig Riedel, was approved by the Ohio House and was sent to the Senate for their consideration. Similar bills have failed several times before. Here’s to hoping that this unnecessary bill follows suit. It’s up to people who truly value freedom of and from religion to insist that our government leaders not breach the wall of separation of church and state. As things stand now in rural northwest Ohio, violations of the Establishment Clause abound. The Freedom From Religion Foundation could set up a local legal office and find enough church-state violations to keep their lawyers busy for years. Signing HB 164 into law will only make matters worse.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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9 Comments

  1. thatotherjean

    Sigh. The dumbing down of Ohio, and a good many other states, continues apace. This needs to stop. Religious convictions are not facts, and do not belong in classrooms, anywhere but a seminary.

    Reply
  2. Matilda

    I happened to read this week about China, women are now allowed to have a 2nd child. Apparently women are saying one is enough. One of the common reasons given is that education is costly and parents want the best there is for their child. They spend evenings helping and fussing over their child’s homework and pay for extra tuition after school. When Trump tried to ban people from certain islamic countries from re-entering the USA, I noted some were top doctors, professors etc. As in the case of China, I wonder if the US will be so dumbed down in a few years, it will have to go down on its knees, begging educated asians etc to come and use their skills for the country.

    Reply
  3. GeoffT

    Easy answer. Students may give their ‘religious’ answer, but they must also provide the ‘science’ one. That might actually make the pupils themselves think about the foolishness these so called ‘adults’ are engaged in.

    Notwithstanding, the rule is clearly unconstitutional and will hopefully be struck down by the courts. I’m concerned that as long as Trump is in charge this kind of foolishness will just get worse. I’m reading article after article that points out how America, far from being ‘made great again’ is becoming the laughing stock of the world, with China likely replacing it as world leader. I think that’s a shame. The world needs America, but a decent, properly governed America, not the nonsense it’s become under Trump.

    Reply
  4. ObstacleChick

    Bruce, thank you for addressing this. I don’t live in Ohio, but I feel for the children in your state who will be encouraged by their parents to answer with anti-science religious nonsense in their work. The ACT science section went give these students that option. So now are these kids going to go to the Ohio State University and demand credit for giving a wrong answer if they claim it’s their religious belief? Do we want these students to be our bridge engineers, our doctors, our airline pilots, etc? Ohio, way to devalue your education system.

    My daughter is at a top university and told me an interaction she witnessed between a student and the professor. Student has an individual education plan as a lot of students do if they have a learning disability or some other factor deemed by a professional as warranting the IEP. This student was arguing with the professor because the professor gave student no credit on a question he left blank. Student said, “But I have an IEP so you should have given me so.e credit.” Professor responded, “I don’t think you understand how grading works – you leave a question blank, you get no credit.”

    Reply
  5. Angiep

    This is such a mess. Now teachers will have to decide what counts as a correct “religious” answer as well as the secular answer?
    Hopefully the ACLU and other groups will throw enough roadblocks in the way to stop this nonsense. The next logical step in the process would be to require that teachers start providing biblical explanations as well as scientific ones.
    Why don’t these people just send their kids to christian schools? Obviously because their bigger agenda is to change all of society back into a theocracy.
    I was raised in a time when we had prayer in schools at the beginning of the day. Even as a young child I didn’t understand why that was done.

    Reply
  6. Infidel753

    Politicians need to keep their hands off of science. They’re not qualified.

    If this law stands, why not apply the same principle universally? Let engineers design airplanes according to faith-based principles instead of established math and technological standards. Let doctors treat patients with Biblical techniques instead of scientifically-tested and validated medicines and procedures. Of course the planes will never get off the ground and a lot of the patients will die, but people need to learn that reality is “hard” and doesn’t change in deference to people’s beliefs about it.

    Reply
  7. Melissa A Montana

    I noticed a lot of commenters here are thinking what I am thinking: do we allow this on the University level? I find it ironic that Trump and the GOP want to go to the moon and Mars, and yet they hang with people who would dumb down education to the point of turning the U.S. into a third-world theocracy. Also, if they allow this, who is going to design the machines of war the GOP love to use? Who is going to build the walls they want around the border if their are no wrongs answers? If the laws of science are subjective, who will design and build their mega-churches, or the planes and boats to carry their missionaries to the unwashed heathen? Oh, I forgot. Jesus is coming soon, so none of this matters.

    Reply
  8. Dave Dubya

    Great! Muslim kids can bring prayer rugs to school. And lets have Rasta kids smoking herb in praise of Jah at school. Let’s allow Native American kids on peyote and mushrooms! And of course, we should have Satanist kids expressing their religion with pentagrams, goat heads, etc.

    Freedom.

    I’m sure the good Christians will completely understand.

    Reply
  9. Maloyo

    Another reason to feel bad for my home state and another reason why I’m so glad I left over 32 years ago. What a mess, they actually want people to be stupid?! Obviously. I never had kids, but I’d be at any free public school with my fist in the fact of any and every teacher who made a kid of mine say a christian prayer in a public school.

    Reply

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