Here in Indiana, we joke about the time the Indiana House of Representatives passed a measure purportedly changing the value of pi. That was in 1897, and Republicans controlled the chamber.
High school test question: How old is the Utica shale formation that Ohio is drilling for oil and natural gas?
Answer: 6,000 years, just like the Bible says.
According to critics, HB 164, the Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019—which every single Republican in the Ohio House of Representatives and two of its Democrats voted for—would bar teachers from dinging that answer, which is 444 million years off the mark, if the student claims “sincerely held religious beliefs” for making it. And this would apply to all science tests. For example, under this belief, astronomers couldn’t possibly be right about the Andromeda Galaxy being 2.5 million light-years distant from the Milky Way.
One of the critics is Gary Daniels, the chief lobbyist for the ACLU of Ohio. He told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the bill would protect students’ religious rights, a good thing. But it also would keep teachers from taking off points for answers that conflict with science, stating that they “shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work,” he said. And that’s far from what education should be about.
The author of the bill disagrees with the ACLU’s analysis, contending that the measure simply protects “religious self-expression”–although he is apparently unable to point to any examples in which Ohio schools have suppressed or otherwise denigrated “religious self-expression.”
Given the facial absurdity of a bill that would protect a student in the above example–and the amount of misinformation circulating on the web– I consulted Snopes, which merely lists the issue as “unproven.”
The Washington Post quoted Ohio’s legislative services analysis, and followed up with the ACLU’s interpretation of the bill’s language.
Per the legislative services, the bill would
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. (emphasis mine)
Per the ACLU
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: “… this legislation clearly states the instructor ‘shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work.’ ”
Amber Epling, spokeswoman for Ohio House Democrats, based her analysis on the language of the measure. She also contends that it would allow students to be scientifically incorrect if they incorporated religious belief into a test response.
The bill’s language–which is at the very least open to interpretation–gives rise to an obvious question: If the bill is not an effort to legislatively “overrule” science, and if there are no examples of religious expression having been penalized, what, exactly, was it intended to accomplish?
According to the sponsor, “protecting students’ rights to express their faith encourages hope in the face of violence in schools and rising rates of drug abuse and suicide.”
Shades of “thoughts and prayers.”
And more students would excel in math if legislators would just change pi to make it easier to remember….