Church/State Separation Under Fire in Ohio; Check Out These Bills Being Considered August 4, 2014

Church/State Separation Under Fire in Ohio; Check Out These Bills Being Considered

This is a guest post written by Michael Gregory. Michael spent three years in the Ohio Army National Guard. He writes at Heretic’s Log.

In case you aren’t aware, the Ohio government website maintains a spreadsheet containing bills and resolutions of the Senate and House. The 104-page PDF file, while not as easy to update, is a lot easier to skim through for anything of interest. And when it comes to church/state separation, there are a number of items that are, not surprisingly, questionable.

House Bill No. 82, originally sponsored by the late Terry Blair (Republican and Catholic) and Bill Hayes (Republican), was introduced in order to exempt religious institutions from the Ohio Civil Rights Law. Not only does this include churches, but the bill, if approved, would amend the definition of “employer” to exclude religious entities by adding the following underlined portion to the current law:

“Employer” includes the state, any political subdivision of the state, any person employing four or more persons within the state, and any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer, but shall not include a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society.

If this bill were to pass, any organization that claims to be religious, or would claim to be for the right to discriminate (*cough* Hobby Lobby *cough*), would be allowed to deny employment based on a person’s sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, etc. In other words, religion would become a legal excuse for state-supported bigotry.

House Bill No. 171 is a bill I don’t fully oppose. This legislation would allow for a public school student to take a religious education course in lieu of other approved electives. Why isn’t this problematic? 1) The sponsoring entity, parent/guardian, or student is responsible (financially and legally) for transportation to and from the school, including accommodations for students with disabilities, 2) “No public funds are expended and no public school personnel are involved in providing the religious instruction,” and 3) “No student may be released from a core curriculum subject course to attend a religious instruction course.”

What does bother me is that the course can only be evaluated by the school district based on “secular criteria.” This includes making sure the number of hours spent in class is appropriate, the syllabus lists all requirements and materials needed, the methods of assessments are reasonable, and that the qualifications of religious instructors are similar to that of other teachers in the district. This leaves the actual material completely open to the instructor (or sponsoring entity). Teaching that Creationism is true? Not a problem. Teaching that Jesus died for our sins? Can’t complain.

It would be more beneficial for students to take a “World Religions” type of course that offers an unbiased curriculum of what the major religions believe, how they evolved from and relate to other religions, and the impact they’ve had throughout history. I wonder how the school district would feel if there were a Humanism course or even a class from The Satanic Temple.

House Bills 303 and 376 are just plain ridiculous. H.B. 303, a.k.a. The Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2013, is supposed to protect a student’s religious expression, something that was never in question in the first place. The sponsoring and co-sponsoring representatives are showing how little they understand the Constitution with this one. Not to mention that the bill also protects students from being graded on the content of any work containing religious material, leaving a back door cracked open for Creation and anti-evolution science projects to weasel their way into the classroom as if they were factual. H.B. 376 is just a state level version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

The most embarrassing resolution, as an atheist Ohioan and former National Guardsman, is House Resolution No. 283. This resolution is intended to “urge the United States Congress and the United States Department of Defense to protect and uphold the religious and free speech rights of military service members.” However, the document contains an itemized list of “egregious events” that are allegedly targeting Christianity. These actions include: Removing bibles from Air Force Inn checklists, removing a reference to God from an official logo, banning the distributions of bibles at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and even blaming the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center for releasing a study that linked pro-lifers to terrorism. (Data can be a cold, cold mistress.)

It’s no surprise that many religious people hate having their unconstitutional privileges taken away in favor of neutrality. The resolution calls for the U.S. Congress “to take action to protect and uphold the religious freedom of military service members.” Which is exactly what they did when they knocked Christianity down to the same playing field as all other religions.

By the way, not once does the bill reference the absence of Humanist chaplains, the lack of Korans being passed out, or even call for investigations in the event of a non-religious soldier being retaliated against for not taking part in an invocation before official military ceremonies. It is only defending the religion of the majority from having to follow the same rules as everyone else, and it’s only to perpetuate the false conspiracy of Christian persecution.

Honestly, I don’t think most, if any, of the bills will pass, especially the military resolution. If any do, there will be groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation and Americans United for Separation of Church and State that will evaluate the situation and take action, if time and resources permit. You can do your part, if you’re a fellow Buckeye, by writing to your representatives and urging them to oppose each bill and resolution. If you know of any other local laws, regulations, or ordinances in your area that are violations of church/state separation, go to FFRF’s website to report them.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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