Possible religion bill stirs debate among students

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The debate swirling around possibly holding the ideas of Darwinian evolution and scriptural belief as equally valid within a scientific classroom continues on the University of Cincinnati campus.

House Bill 425, known as the Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2016, passed the Ohio Legislature last week and drew a multitude of responses, from campus ministers to anthropology professors to UC’s Secular Student Alliance.

The bill would alter the current law that limits religious expression to non-instructional periods and would allow a student to engage in religious expression "before, during, and after school hours … to the same extent that a student is permitted to engage in secular activities.”

While the bill largely addresses the issue of religious expression at public schools, one section of the bill prohibits a school from penalizing or rewarding a student’s religious expression when completing homework or other assignments — meaning that creationist answers could be treated with the same validity as evolutionary ones.

Although the impact of the bill would be limited to education below UC’s, most people who responded to the bill noted its implication would be felt across all institutes of higher learning, including UC.

Jamie Noyd, campus staff member at InterVarsity Christian ministries, said she knows several devoutly religious students who choose not to profess their faith publicly because they fear negative repercussions.

Noyd and other campus ministry officials said students expressed to them similar trepidation in outwardly commenting on their belief, specifically in academic matters.

“I would mark that student wrong for that answer,” said Brittany Lowe, a fifth-year biological medicine student about how she would deal with creationism within an evolution class. “Why are you even in the class if you don’t believe in what’s being taught? In any science or biology class, it’s not about what you believe, it’s about the facts and I think that keeps everyone on the same page.”

Other students wondered if the idea of religious liberty would in fact be a detriment to the academic experience of religious students themselves.

“It’s a misinterpretation of the religious principle. To purposely limit your exposure to the world to one single religious interpretation is very reductive and limits your scope. Learning is about incorporating all these different principles and figuring out their meaning,” said Garek Bushnell, a first-year exploratory student considering a scientific field.

Some did not see harm in the bill necessarily, but see how the bill could have negative implications for others.

“It doesn’t bother me but I could see why it would bother someone who isn’t religious. I could see why it would be a problem if it was coming from the instructor, that might bother people, like it’s an endorsement,” said Kaila Yamamoto, a second-year biology student about the idea of creationism within a scientific classroom.