Religion Credit in Ohio Public Schools?

Bill Would Give Public School Students Credit for Religion Classes

I heard this news story on our local public radio station this past week. Basically, one of our (Ohio’s) state reps is sponsoring a bill that would “allow students to take a religion class at another school to get academic credit for it at their public school.” That’s how it’s described in the story, anyway. What little I know about it at this point suggests that he’s proposing that students be allowed to count release-time religious education as elective credit for graduation.

I’m not feeling highly exercised either for or against this proposal (though I lean toward disapproving). I am, however, feeling rather ickkhh about two comments made in the course of the news story, one by the bill’s sponsor, the other by a spokesperson for the ACLU, who’s here to represent “the other side.”

Here’s what the bill’s sponsor, Bill Patmon (a Democrat, for what that’s worth to know), is quoted as saying in justification of his proposal:

“It’s an attempt on our side to give exposure to God and religious which seemingly has been completely exorcised from our schools.”

Okay… that’s a constitutional challenge just hanging ripe from the tree. A great way to polarize the issue, though. Rally those troops.

But then we get this comment from the ACLU’s spokesperson:

A spokesman for the group, Gary Daniels, says it could cause confusion for students who take religion classes that directly contradict what they learn in science class for example.

In fairness, that’s a reporter’s paraphrase, which I know from my own unhappy experience means his ideas may not be receiving fair representation. But taking that paraphrase on its face, it’s a rather stupid reason to be opposing this bill, from the standpoint of constructing a constitutional case.

This comment from Daniels does better at identifying a pertinent constitutional issue:

“It seems to me that the way this bill is written, the school is almost powerless to stop any number of religious lessons, teachings, spreading of the faith.  They are going to be mandated to reward credit for this type of thing.  And when you start talking about the whole hosts of religious faiths and denominations that are out there…everything from Christianity to Scientology to Ancient European Religious, Viking, Rastafarian, Satanism, and all of these other types of things, the legislation cannot certainly start picking to whom it is going to reward credit based on the religion or the religious faith.”

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