(Photo: Ohio House of Representatives)
A bill that would allow Ohio public schools to provide a credit option for religious instruction outside the school has passed the lower house of the state legislature.
Ohio's House of Representatives voted last week overwhelmingly in favor of House Bill 171, which if enacted will modify the Revised Code on education matters.
"To enact section 3313.6020 of the Revised Code to permit public school students to attend and receive credit for released time courses in religious instruction conducted off school property during regular school hours," reads HB 171's summary.
HB 171 passed by a vote of 78 yeas to 15 nays, with none of the Republican majority voting against it, said Michael Dittoe, spokesman for Ohio House Speaker William G. Batchelder, to The Christian Post.
"A Democrat (Rep. Bill Patmon of Cleveland) and a Republican (Rep. Jeff McClain of Upper Sandusky) joint sponsored the bill together," said Dittoe, who added that Speaker Batchelder was "hopeful" the bill will become law.
"Now that the House approved the bill, the next step lies with the Ohio Senate, who would have to take action."
In a statement, cosponsor McClain argued that the bill provides well-deserved credit for hard work that students perform outside of public schools.
"This bill ensures that released time courses in religious instruction remain a viable option to supplement a student's education," said McClain.
"It makes sense that, not only do many young people wish to take advantage of religious instruction, but that they can conveniently do so and earn credit for their hard work."
HB 171 is not without its critics, as the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union offered testimony against the proposed legislation, calling it "misguided" which lacked the means to provide accountability for the religious instruction allowed.
"Westboro Baptist Church members have the freedom to believe whatever they want," remarked ACLU of Ohio Associate Director Gary Daniels.
"But I see very little - to potentially nothing - in HB 171 to prevent them from setting up an unaccredited, non-school entity to teach their beliefs and demanding their released time students get academic credit."
Nick Worner, communications coordinator for the ACLU of Ohio, told The Christian Post that HB 171 was presently awaiting committee assignment from the Ohio Senate.
"The ACLU of Ohio opposes HB 171 because, at its core, the bill opens the door to public school students receiving public school credit to learn religious ideology," said Worner.
"Students should absolutely be free to study ideology based courses on their own time, but the public school system should not be rewarding academic credits for overtly religious instruction."
Michael Hamilton, executive editor of the Ohio Conservative Review, told The Christian Post that he supported HB 171 and found it "promising on several fronts."
"It expands educational opportunities while increasing marketplace options and respecting local school districts. It also seeks to involve parents, whose consent is required before students can enroll in an off-campus religious elective," said Hamilton.
"The bill also implicitly recognizes that there need not be a conflict between religious study and academic rigor, and that throughout history the former has often enhanced the latter."