Column: Religion has no bearing in the classroom

Recently, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed HB 2211, a bill created in an attempt to increase freedom of religion in public schools. Its intent is to let students say the earth was created by God (Allah, Brahma, Eros, Atum, Ymir, etc.) and that humans didn’t evolve, but were intelligently designed, in accordance with their religious beliefs, and still get a passing grade. As long as students say what they are being taught interferes with their religious beliefs, they cannot be graded down.

The bill requires school administrations to allow students to express their beliefs in a public forum – be it an assembly, student announcements, their homework or in class – without being penalized. According to the Edmond Sun, a newspaper based in Edmond, Okla., if a student’s religious beliefs are in conflict with scientific theory, and the student chooses to express those beliefs rather than explain the theory in response to an exam question, the student’s incorrect response would have to be deemed satisfactory.

Under HB 2211, even something as simple as factual information can be subject to a student’s beliefs. Nearly all modern scientists believe the Earth to be around 4.5 billion years old. However, on a test, students who are Young Earth Creationists could answer that the earth is only 6,000 years old according to their beliefs, and the instructor would have to accept that answer or risk facing the law. If this bill is enacted, scientific education will become inane in Oklahoma’s public schools.

It is absurd that people often give credence to fantasy. When one fantasy is allowed, the rest, no matter how bizarre they may seem to some, must be as well. Make-believe should never be placed on the same playing field as reality. Facts are facts, and I doubt many college professors are going to accept an answer of “God did it” on an exam.

I realize that not everyone believes the same thing. I, for instance, do not really believe that any one religion is correct. Yet, I am not about to try and force my beliefs, or lack thereof, on anyone else. And I would appreciate it if others would do the same. However, this bill allows for a student, say at a school-sanctioned assembly, to get up in front of his classmates and say to them, “If you do not believe in God, you are going to burn in the fiery pits of Hell for all eternity.” And this would be OK.

Conversely, if a student were to get up in front of his classmates at a school-sanctioned assembly and announce that the only God is Nature (a pagan belief), that would be fine as well. This bill allows for students to impose their views onto others. I don’t know about anyone else, but if I had someone at a public assembly in a public school trying to shove their beliefs down my throat, I would be very unhappy.

So unhappy that I might, in fact, opt to sue the school – another problem that arises from this bill.

As reported in the Edmond Sun, what administrators in Texas, where a similar bill was passed into law months ago, fear as the law is implemented is a barrage of lawsuits. School administrators are frightened. They fear lawsuits from students who feel that the school is forcing them to endure religious activity they do not agree with, nor want to have imposed on them. They also fear lawsuits from students who claim they have not been properly allowed the forum the law requires.

Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

This bill doesn’t uphold the First Amendment, as it claims, but in reality, tramples all over it. Students in public schools already have the right to pray in school, and organized religious groups do, if they so choose. What they aren’t allowed to do is harass others or publicly try to convert them.

The First Amendment already does a fine job of upholding freedom of religion. All this bill really does is further distance Oklahoma public schools from separation of church and state and lower the quality of its students’ education.

HB 2211 still has to pass Oklahoma’s state senate, something which is very possible, and maybe even likely. If it does, Oklahoma and its public school system will take a large step backward.