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Religious Instruction Legislation Could Backfire, Say Critics

There’s a bill in the Ohio legislature that would give public school students credit for taking religious classes. The legislation is drawing criticism from people who worry about unintended consequences.  Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.

Democratic State Representative Bill Patmon says it’s time for public schools to encourage students to take part in religious instruction.

Patmon-It’s an attempt on our side to give exposure to God and religious which seemingly has been completely exorcised from our schools
Patmon is sponsoring a bill that would allow students to take a religion class at another school to get academic credit for it at their public school.  Patmon says there are a couple of good reasons why children who go to public schools should be able to get credit for their religious work.

Patmon – The child will be able to select what they want, that’s one.  Two, it would be off campus and not in the classroom as a way of trying to influence someone one way or another.  This is an elective and it is choosing yourself.  And that is the important part of this that people need to understand.  We aren’t forcing this on anybody.  We are just saying there should be a choice there.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio opposes the idea.  A spokesman for the group, Gary Daniels, says it could cause confusion for students who take religion classes that directly contradict what they learn in science class for example.  And Daniels says there are unintended consequences to consider here.

Daniels - It seems to me that the way this bill is written, the school is almost powerless to stop any number of religious lessons, teachings, spreading of the faith.  They are going to be mandated to reward credit for this type of thing.  And when you start talking about the whole hosts of religious faiths and demoninations that are out there….everything from Christianity to Scientology to Ancient European Religious, Viking, Rastafarian, Satanism, and all of these other types of things, the legislation cannot certainly start picking to whom it is going to reward credit based on the religion or the religious faith.

Patmon emphasizes his bill does not require school districts to pay for the classes or pay for transportation to and from the classes. The nation’s Supreme Court does allow for students to time out of school for religious training but the ruling that allows that practice does not specify that public school districts give students credit for those classes.

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