Ohio bill would require public schools to allow religious classes

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A bill has been introduced at the Capitol that would require Ohio public schools to adopt a policy allowing students to attend religious classes during the school day.

House Bill 445, sponsored by Reps. Gary Click (R-Vickery) and Al Cutrona (R-Canfield), would slightly amend current Ohio law to “require” rather than “allow” school districts adopt a policy authorizing students to attend free classes. time courses in religious instruction.

“It is incomprehensible that any school board would intentionally interfere with students’ rights to impose its own set of values,” Click said.

In the United States, public school students can legally attend religious classes during the school day due to a pair of Supreme Court decisions in 1948 and 1952, but there are restrictions.

Federal rules include that religious classes cannot be held on school grounds, school funds cannot be spent and student attendance must be voluntary with parental permission. Public schools have discretion over whether to allow students to attend religious classes off campus, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Numerous states have additional regulations. In Ohio, the student’s guardian must give written permission, the entity teaching the classes must maintain attendance, students cannot miss core classes to attend religious instruction, and schools are not responsible for anything that happens. during student transportation.

HB445 maintains existing requirements for schools’ religious instruction policies. Outside of these state requirements, the bill would not control what each school’s policy will be.

An estimated 75% of schools in Ohio have a policy regarding religious free time courses and 23 districts have specifically rejected a policy, according to Click. If this bill were passed, he said most schools in the state “wouldn’t see any changes.”

Ryan Jayne, senior policy advisor at the nonprofit Freedom From Religion Foundation Action Fund, said that if the bill were to become law, districts that have decided not to allow students to attend instruction religious would be forced to do so.

“Parents have more than enough time during the week to provide religious education to their children without disrupting the school day,” Jayne said. “The Supreme Court has ruled that schools can allow time off for religious instruction, but it should be up to each individual district to decide if it is in the best interest of their students.”

One problem Jayne said she sees with religious leisure programs is the promotion of “peer evangelism,” where students face coercive pressure to attend classes. He specifically pointed to LifeWise, a religious education program based in Hilliard.

“What this means is that they train students to recruit their classmates, incentivizing them with things like pizza parties,” Jayne said. “A LifeWise program in Indiana boasted that 82% of students in grades 1-8 in one district attended LifeWise. Imagine being one of the 18% who don’t attend, having to work hard at school until your entire class comes back and they’ve told everyone that if they can get you to come to Christian class next time, they can have pizza. party.”

LifeWise was established in 2018, with the initial goal of serving 25 schools by 2025, but quickly surpassed that goal. The program has created chapters in more than 300 schools in a dozen states, teaching weekly Bible lessons to 35,000 public school students, according to NBC News.

LifeWise states on its website that a study by national consulting firm Thomas P. Miller & Associates shows that LifeWise programs improve student attendance and behavior. It also states that in a survey of 500 educators, 76% agreed that both schools and students benefited from LifeWise.

HB445 received its first hearing in the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee on April 23, where it will receive future hearings open to public testimony.