Sub. HB 425, The Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act, was passed by the Ohio House two weeks ago and is now being considered by the Ohio Senate. It is currently assigned to the Education committee. The Secular Coalition for Ohio submitted the following written testimony to the committee asking the bill be rejected:
To: Senate Education Committee
From: Douglas Berger, co-chair, Secular Coalition for Ohio
Date: April 27th, 2016
RE: Sub. House Bill 425
To Chair Lehner, Vice-Chair Hite, and members of the Senate Education Committee. My name is Douglas Berger and I am the co-chair of the Secular Coalition for Ohio. We are a chapter of The Secular Coalition for America, an advocacy organization dedicated to amplifying the diverse and growing voice of the nontheistic community in the United States.
I'm writing today, to oppose Sub. HB 425, on behalf of secular Ohioans who support a strong separation of church and state and who feel that historical concept is very important to support in the public schools where children of all different religions and no religion come together as part of the compulsory education requirement in our state.
It is because of this compulsory nature of the public schools we must be very careful when changing or amending the laws where religion is concerned.
Luckily the Federal courts and Congress have done a good job of protecting the religious rights of children in public schools and as Sub HB 425 sponsor Representative Bill Hayes points out in his testimony, much of this bill restates portions of the Federal Equal Access law passed by Congress in 1984.
As a Columbus Dispatch editorial put it, in February, when this bill was under consideration by the House:
"Religious expression in schools already enjoys many legal protections. Students can pray by themselves or with others, can read sacred texts, can pray before meals and tests, and discuss religious matters with any students willing to listen. While schools can't organize religious observances, they can rent their facilities to groups that seek to hold religious baccalaureate programs. Students can express their religious beliefs in homework and art. If a school allows distribution of nonschool literature, it must allow religious literature to be distributed, too, subject to the same rules. Religious clubs have the same right to use school facilities as nonreligious clubs."
What the Secular Coalition for Ohio finds objectionable is the addition of the vague phrase "expression of a religious viewpoint" in the bill's definition of religious expression and the removal of the reasonable time, manner, and place restriction for religious expression.
"Expression of a religious viewpoint" is often code for speaking out against LGBT equality which can lead to bullying of LGBT students at school. Religion should not be used as an excuse to bully people or to allow it to happen.
Imagine the hurt a gay teen would experience if fellow students were allowed to wear T-shirts that said "Gays will go to Hell" or a Transgendered woman being ganged up on at anytime of the school day to be told how she must be confused about her gender.
In one national report, from 2011, 85% of LGBT students reported harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and nearly 20% reported "being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation."
The bill would also allow possible bullying of students of different faiths or who have no religion.
A Jewish student could be told that the Jews killed Jesus. Or a group of Christians make a point of eating bacon in front of Muslim students. What about an atheist student being forced to hear testimony from a Christian during study hall?
Sub HB 425 would allow these scenarios and more since those would be considered "expression of a religious viewpoint".
The Secular Coalition sees no benefit to this bill except to give cover for the impermissible injection of religion in the public schools. Religion is a divisive force and should be left up to the parents at home or in the church.
This is why the Secular Coalition for Ohio is opposed to Sub. HB 425 and asks the committee to reject it.
Douglas Berger - co-chair
Our action alert for this bill has been updated to submit messages to your Senator and the Governor. Now is the time to ask them to reject this bill.