Want another reason to fight tooth and nail to make sure that Greg Gianforte never becomes Montana’s governor? The Ohio House of Representatives just provided one:
On Wednesday the Ohio House of Representatives passed the “Student Religious Liberties Act,” a law prohibiting students from being penalized when their work is scientifically incorrect so long as they attribute it to their religious beliefs, a local news outlet reported. Rather than using silly metrics based on logic and demonstrable facts, teachers should instead grade students on “ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance” in these cases according to the bill. It doesn’t elaborate on how to parse that brazenly doublespeak decree.
That’s right. The intellectual lights of the Ohio Republican Party want to pass a law that would make it impossible for teachers to grade classwork because a student could simply cite her religious belief that evolution did not happen as an answer to a question about natural selection.
It’s an absurd, poorly-written and ill-conceived law that almost certainly wouldn’t pass constitutional muster if signed into law in Ohio, but it’s absolutely the kind of law the Montana Legislature and a Governor Gianforte would try to pass.
Imagine the intellectual value of a student citing Gianforte’s apparent belief that dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth together 6,000 years ago as an answer to a science question or a student in American Government class choosing to cite Gianforte’s belief that retirement runs counter to Biblical values when asked to explain the viability of the Social Security system.
And don’t even get me started on the kinds of answers teachers would have to accept in Health courses.
Entirely reasonable mockery of the education system Ohio Republicans and Greg Gianforte would likely support aside, the justifications for these laws rest on a fallacious claim Republicans have promulgated for years: that schools are hostile to religious belief.
It’s just not true.
In just the past week in my classes, students have wrestled with how Chinua Achebe alludes to and builds on the story of Abraham and Isaac in his novel Things Fall Apart and debated how the ethical standards of the New and Old Testaments compare with one another. They’ve compared Achebe’s description of the arrival of locusts to the story in Exodus in order to have a deeper understanding of the novel and an important story in Western culture.
Students have shared elements of their religious faith in a respectful environment where all—believers and non-believers alike—are encouraged to share their perspectives.
There are religious clubs on campus, students read personal books with religious themes, and no teacher has ever stopped a student from uttering a private prayer when a vocabulary quiz makes its way around the room. Good public schools treat religious views like any other: students are allowed to share, practice and believe whatever they want as long as the rights of others are not infringed.
What Ohio legislators and Greg Gianforte want isn’t to protect freedom of religious expression—that freedom exists in public schools today—but the imposition of a particular religious point of view. When they call for “prayer in school,” surely they know students can pray now but want to force students to participate in religious practices not their own.
To protect the religious freedom of students in Montana, feel free to pray (if that’s your thing) that he’s not elected. And prayer or not, let’s all make sure to do the work necessary to prevent it.