By Marc Kovac
Students could earn elective credit for religious classes offered away from school property, under legislation recently approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. John Kasich.
HB 171 would not excuse students from math, language, social studies, science and other coursework required for graduation. Rather, the new state law enables school boards to allow up to two elective credits for religious instruction.
The latter classes are offered off school property, and students are released to attend with permission from their parents, provided attendance records are kept, transportation is provided, no public funds are used and affected students assume responsibility for any missed school assignments, among other requirements.
“I look forward to the added opportunities for our students to improve their lives, and this gives us yet another tool to help change society for the better,” Rep. Jeff McClain, a primary co-sponsor of the bipartisan legislation, said in a released statement.
Rep. Bill Patmon, Democrat from Cleveland, the other primary co-sponsor, added during floor deliberations in the House, “This will be something that I believe will do some good for us out in the districts for some people who have never had an exposure to any kind of religion.”
An analysis by the state’s Legislative Service Commission noted past court decisions and an opinion published by the Ohio Attorney General permitting students “to be released from school for religious instruction as long as it comports with the First Amendment and the state religious-freedom clause of the Ohio Constitution.”
Still, several Democrats who voted against the bill voiced concern.
“Religion can be a powerful and important part of many Americans’ day-to-day life,” Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, said during floor deliberations on the bill in the Senate last month. “It can also be very controversial. It’s something that people of all ages can benefit from, but I think we’re making a mistake when we’re telling public schools that they can give credits for religious instruction.”
HB 171 received final approval from the Ohio House and Senate last month on split votes (24-9 in the Senate, 86-10 in the House). With Kasich’s signature, the bill is set to take effect in September.