A bill expanding religious freedom in Ohio public schools and allowing students to engage in religious expression in their school assignments was signed into law Friday by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.
The House bill introduced by Republican Rep. Tim Ginter in March 2019 became law after being passed in the GOP-controlled chamber last week in a near-unanimous vote.
“This will ensure students’ rights at a public school to engage in religious expression in the same way students can participate in secular activities,” Ginter said in a release.
The Student Religious Liberties Act would remove a provision in current law limiting expressions of religious beliefs by public school students to lunch and non-instructional periods and would allow them to gather as students do for secular activities.
It also says schools can’t prohibit students from religious expression in homework, artwork or other assignments and teachers cannot penalize or reward work based on its religious content.
Critics of the bill have said the U.S. Constitution and state law already guarantee religious liberties to students and that school guidelines should be decided by local district officials.
Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, called the measure “a true mixed bag” during opponent testimony June 9.
He said while the group approves of provisions lifting restrictions on students’ rights to religious liberty in schools, it opposes the bill’s attempt to “enshrine principles of constitutional law into state law.”
“This may sound like a positive development, but it would be messier than anticipated,” Daniels testified.
The bill had four committee hearings and gained support from over 60 sponsors within both legislative chambers.
Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values, a conservative group that has advocated in favor of school choice, celebrated the bill becoming state law Friday.
“No student should have to hide their faith just because they enter a public school,” Aaron Baer, the organization’s president said.
Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.