The Ohio House of Representatives this week passed a truly astounding bill that would allow students to give wrong answers on their science tests so long as they do so in religious terms. That’s not an exaggeration. House Bill 164, labeled the “Student Religious Liberties Act,” would amend the state’s Education Code to forbid schools from “prohibit[ing] a student from engaging in religious expression in the completion of housework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments.” That might sound benign, except that there are times when religious expression is inappropriate, or where it is simply the wrong answer to a question—and if the word “prohibit” in the bill is interpreted as including any kind of penalty, then the result would be that teachers could not penalize a student who answered, say, the question, “What is the capital of Ohio?” with the answer, “God told me it was Tallahassee.”
That’s not an unrealistic interpretation of the bill, because the next sentence says,
grades and scores shall be calculated using ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, including any legitimate pedagogical concerns, and shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work.
Thus if a student answered a question such as
This cladogram shows the evolutionary relationships among four species. One of the species in the cladogram is labeled as Species X. Check the box to select the species that are members of the smallest clade that includes Species X
(a question I borrowed from a sample test on the Ohio Department of Education’s website), the student could answer, “My religion says that evolution never happened and there’s no such thing as clades”— and a teacher who penalized the student for giving the wrong answer would be in violation of the law.