Student religious liberties bill introduced in Ohio Senate committee

By: - January 23, 2020 12:40 am

Stock image from Pixabay.

The sponsor of a bill he says is intended to make religious activities a regular part of schools, just as secular activities are, presented his measure to an Ohio Senate committee on Tuesday.

State Rep. Timothy Ginter, R-Salem, introduced the bill in the Senate Education Committee, saying the proposal “is intended to protect the religious freedom of all students, regardless of their faith or beliefs.”

“No student — be they Muslim, Jewish, Christian, atheist or agnostic — should ever feel they must surrender their rights and beliefs because they attend a public school,” Ginter said in his testimony before the committee.

File photo of state Rep. Timothy Ginter, R-Salem, from Ohio House website.

The bill passed the House in November with a 61-31 vote, largely along party lines. Only two Democrats voted for the bill: state Rep. Michael J. O’Brien, D-Warren, and Rep. Gil Blair, D-Weathersfield.

During the committee hearing Tuesday, Senators mainly clarified language in the bill and how it would affect a school day. Committee chair Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said the issue of grading students on evolution has been a “lightning rod that caused a lot of phone calls.”

Ginter said he’s been receiving the same phone calls and emphasized that the language of the bill does not include changes to the grading systems. The content of the class will still be the basis for knowledge assessments in a classroom, he said.

“For example, if (a student’s) faith says that the Earth is 6,000 years old, but the theory of evolution and what they’ve been taught in that particular science class does not say that, they are tested on the content of that class,” Ginter said.

The Ohio Federation of Teachers has questioned the intent of the bill, and said it is “open to misinterpretation.”

Some senators asked about different incidents in which religious liberties came into question, including a question from Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, who mentioned a Sylvania Northview student who was deemed ineligible from a cross-country race for wearing a hijab.

Ginter said his bill doesn’t bypass the rules of the Ohio High School Athletic Association, but the incident speaks to the necessity of the bill.

“This is just one example of the fact that, first of all, (the bill) doesn’t just involve individuals that are of Christian faith, but it also involves individuals of other faiths…and it’s something that seems to be increasing,” Ginter said.

The bill will be scheduled for another hearing in the Senate committee.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.