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New Ohio Law Allows More Religious Expression By Students

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Gov. Mike DeWine has signed a law that allows students in public schools to express their religious beliefs.

The "Student Religious Liberties Act" removes a provision in current law limiting expressions of religious beliefs by public school students to lunch and non-instructional periods. It would also allow them to gather as students do for secular activities.

The act 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.

State Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima) says if the choir can announce there’s practice after school, a religious-based club will be allowed to do the same. However, he says there are limits.

“Students couldn’t get on the PA to say, ‘Now we are all going to pray together’ just as the students in the choir could not say, ‘We are all going to sing together,'" Huffman says.

Critics of the bill  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.

The Ohio Senate passed the bill unanimously. It had faced opposition in the House, but 18 amendments were added to help schools with the coronavirus pandemic.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.