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Daily Court Reporter - News Senate takes up student religious liberties bill


Senate takes up student religious liberties bill

KEITH ARNOLD, Daily Reporter Staff Writer

A Senate committee is expected to mull a bill intended to allow school students who wish to meet for religious expression the same access to school facilities as other student groups.

The Senate Education Committee recently took up the Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act and has yet to schedule a hearing of the bill.

Filed as House Bill 428, the legislation would require a public school to give students who wish to conduct a meeting for the purpose of engaging in religious expression the same access to school facilities as student secular groups, without regard to the content of a student's or group's expression.

Specifically, the measure would remove a provision allowing a school district to limit the exercise or expression of religion to lunch periods or other noninstructional time periods.

HB 428 also would authorize students enrolled in public schools to engage in religious expression before, during, and after school hours in the same manner and to the same extent that a student may engage in secular activities or expression before, during, and after school hours.

"HB 428 will protect the rights of students by ensuring that a student enrolled in a public school may engage in religious expression in the same manner and to the same extent that a student is permitted to engage in secular activities," Rep. Tim Ginter, R-Salem, a joint sponsor of the bill, said upon the bill's passage by the House of Representatives.

The bill defines religious expression as, including any of the following:

• Prayer;

• Religious gatherings, including, but not limited to, prayer groups, religious clubs, "see you at the pole" gatherings, or other religious gatherings;

• Distribution of written materials or literature of a religious nature; and

• Any other activity of a religious nature, including wearing symbolic clothing or expression of a religious viewpoint, provided that the activity is not obscene, vulgar, offensively lewd, or indecent.

The measure would prohibit public schools from restricting a student from engaging in religious expression in the completion of homework, artwork, or other assignments and from rewarding or penalizing a student based on the religious content of his homework, artwork or other assignments.

Ohio Legislative Service Commission analysis of HB 428 found that current law expressly permits a district board of education to "provide for a moment of silence each school day for prayer, reflection, or meditation upon a moral, philosophical, or patriotic theme."

No student is required to participate in the practice, Mitchell Smith wrote for the commission

"That law also specifies that a district board may not prohibit a classroom teacher from providing in the classroom reasonable periods of time for activities of a moral, philosophical, or patriotic theme," Smith continued. "Similarly, no student may be required to participate in the activities, if the activities are contrary to the religious convictions of the student or the student's parents or guardians."

Current law does not apply to community, STEM or college-preparatory boarding schools. HB 428, however, would change that.

"(The legislation) provides clarity to school districts that faith-based organizations are to be treated the same as secular organizations, including having the same assess to school facilities," said LaTourette. "Being able to joint-sponsor this legislation with Rep. Ginter, a true leader in the faith community, has been an honor."

Previously, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has come out against the proposal, first, calling it unnecessary and, then, saying it ignores constitutional neutrality mandates.

"If a student is assigned homework in a biology class and completes her assignment claiming the earth and universe around her is less than 10,000 years (old), as young earth creationists believe, can the teacher give her a lesser grade," ACLU of Ohio chief lobbyist Gary Daniels posed to the House Education and Career Readiness Committee. "It is not unusual for students to use school resources and events to communicate information to each other, including the public address system, school assemblies, student-run newspapers and other methods and events.

"Under HB 428, must these same opportunities be equally available to those who wish to broadcast prayers and proselytize to their classmates - a captive audience in school?"

HB 428 cleared the House on a 67-26 vote.

Date Published: October 19, 2018


Copyright © 2018 The Daily Reporter - All Rights Reserved


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