I’m going to have to disagree with you there, Snopes

You’ve probably heard about this Ohio law that dictates that teachers can’t penalize students for religious references in their essays and exams. Snopes thinks it’s harmless, and doesn’t affect the separation of church and state. I’m going to say that that is only true if you entirely ignore context and history and take every word literally. Here’s the law:

Sec. 3320.03. No school district board of education, governing authority of a community school established under Chapter 3314. of the Revised Code, governing body of a STEM school established under Chapter 3326. of the Revised Code, or board of trustees of a college-preparatory boarding school established under Chapter 3328. of the Revised Code shall prohibit a student from engaging in religious expression in the completion of homework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments. Assignment 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.

It’s true, it does say “grades and scores shall be calculated using ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance,” but I have to ask…what is the purpose of this law? That’s how we calculate grades and scores now! Is there some mysterious network of teachers who have been using the frequency of “Praise Jesus!” comments in essays as an essential rubric? This is a law purportedly stating rules for STEM classes, where religious statements are irrelevant. Why do we need a law to set standards for religious statements?

Right now, if a student answers an exam question with the words “Praise Jesus” somewhere on the page, like a little doodle that they did in their spare time, I’d treat it exactly as I would if they sketched a picture of a dinosaur…as something to to ignore. However, if every other sentence in an essay was about Jesus (or dinosaurs — I don’t teach paleontology), I’d start marking it down for incoherence or irrelevancy. “Ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance” prohibit religious expression in most circumstances because we’re going to value clarity, brevity, and accuracy, so this law is redundant.

Except that what it’s really about is getting religion into the STEM curriculum somehow. It’s saying, “Don’t think of an elephant,” knowing that it immediately puts religious parents on guard to protest if their favorite creation myth isn’t discussed in biology class. This law was not written by someone concerned about the teaching of science, but by someone who wants to guarantee that theology will be brought up in science class.

Another way to think of it is that this is a law about a peculiar non-issue. Imagine if Ohio created a law that said you cannot prohibit or penalize a student from engaging in discussion of Jack Nicklaus, golfing legend, in homework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments. Would this actually be a proposal to guarantee fairness in science teaching, or do you think it would be more of an effort to promote Jack Nicklaus? Or golfing. Or the lawmaker’s golf course.

We’ve also got decades of precedent where creationists like to nibble away, inserting references to their beliefs in all kinds of laws, and then standing back with an expression of incredulity that you’d find this harmless little acknowledgment of America’s Christian heritage at all offensive, but they’ll build on it and grow and grow the Jesus nonsense a phrase at a time into the law books. They’re patient and dedicated. That law is only the first step to expand religious bias into STEM classes, I promise you.


  1. says

    “Right now, if a student answers an exam question with the words “Praise Jesus” somewhere on the page” For real? Does that actually happen to you? I mean I can see that happening at the Jr/Highschool level but, but if you’re taking a college level bio course, why would you do that?

    I’m pretty sure most of us who went into hard science had to acknowledge that the theory of evolution is the mechanism that led to all the biological sciences. Plus a lot of the chemical sciences… Plus a lot of physics…

    It just reaks of someone trying to get a rise out of you.

  2. says

    I have to say the language is ambiguous. If a student writes an essay defending creationism for biology class, and the instructor flunks them, they’ll presumably go to court. The courts will have to decide exactly what this means, that isn’t up to Snopes.

  3. says

    There are going to be some very disappointed Ohio Christians if they even make it to out of state universities and colleges only to find out that they can’t get away with “Jesus did it” anymore.

    And if this law affects in-state post-secondary institutions too, I don’t see those degrees being worth the paper they’re printed on.

  4. aspleen says

    Given past court cases involving creationism, I can safely predict the result of a case being brought as a result of this legislation: Fundies lose again.

  5. raven says

    This bill is far worse than what most news outlets have reported.
    Some context. Xpost Dispatches

    The bill’s sponsor, Republican representative and ordained minister Timothy Ginter, has a history of attempting to write his religious beliefs into legislation.

    In September, he sponsored a bill that would have declared pornography a public health hazard with “statewide and national public health impacts leading to a broad spectrum of individual and societal harms.”

    There is no doubt that this bill is an enabling act for weird fundie xian religious kooks.
    The guy who wrote the bill is…a weird fundie xian religious kook and an ordained minister.

  6. raven says

    Xpost Dispatches.

    Part of the bill
    …and prohibits schools from restricting religious activities to lunch and other breaks.

    This is about as stupid and evil as fundie xians can get.
    Why are they allowing religious activities during class time in a public school anyway?
    This is just dumb and likely illegal.
    The time and place for religious activities isn’t during English or gym, it is in a church, mosque, temple, or similar place.

  7. raven says

    Xpost Dispatches
    Even the fundie xians know this is a creationist enabling bill.
    They think it is a good idea which means it is a bad idea.

    Ohio House Passes Law Protecting Students’ Right to Believe …
    https:// www. faithwire.com › 2019/11/15 › ohio-house-passes-law-protectin…

    6 hours ago – Ohio House Passes Law Protecting Students’ Right to Believe in Creationism … Rep. Timothy Ginter (R), an ordained minister, sponsored the bill, which he … of creationism — in homework and other classroom assignments.

    I didn’t bother to click on the link.
    I avoid websites with names like “faithwire” for many reasons.
    Not the least, xian sites tend to be full of malware.

    BTW, this headline is really stupid.
    Schools can’t make people believe in anything.
    It is simple impossible since your thoughts are your thoughts.
    Students have zero requirements to believe in evolution, reality, or anything.
    They are required to know what scientists have discovered about the universe.
    Whether they believe it is entirely optional.

  8. says

    “Ohio House Passes Law Protecting Students’ Right to Believe in Creationism”
    Well you can believe whatever you want but when they enter the job market (Pardon the Reaganomics term) they have to deliver. How does a Creationist Biologist make a living besides signing on with Ken Ham? I’m really curious.

  9. PaulBC says

    That sent me back to something that I either imagined or was an actual thing… writing “JMJ” at the top of a paper for Jesus Mary and Joseph. I don’t think I ever did this myself, but I looked it up, and it is a real thing Catholics of a certain vintage used to do. I don’t think a student should be marked down for that (like PZ says anymore than if they drew a dinosaur, our a band logo, or anything else).

    This law, however, does not solve a real problem, because teachers don’t penalize students for this, and opens the floodgates to using religion as an excuse not to learn the subject matter.

  10. betterkevin says

    I don’t see Snopes saying the law is harmless and doesn’t affect church and state. It only talks about whether the law means answers that are incorrect and religious will be marked correct. Even on that limited question, it punts. Not sure what you’re reading. Did they change their page?

    @Raven (Hi Again!),

    Your #7 is dishonest quoting. The proposed law would allow religious expression anytime other non-curriculum activities are allowed. It does not allow religious expression anything special; instead, it explicitly puts religious expression on par with other student expression.

  11. Akira MacKenzie says

    betterkevin @ 11

    It only talks about whether the law means answers that are incorrect and religious will be marked correct.

    The bill says:

    Assignment 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.

    NOWHERE does it say that the answers given have to be “accurate” or “factual.” The lack of that leaves enough legal wiggle-room for the most clueless Christian-activist laywer to argue that Bible-humper spawn be allowed to answer incorrectly in the name of JEEZ-us.

    … it explicitly puts religious expression on par with other student expression.

    Which it SHOULDN’T be, certainly not in a public school. They want to bring that superstitious tripe in, they should keep to outside school hours. A club devoted to telling people what to think and believe (Or else!) isn’t the same as Chess Club or Intermural Tennis.

  12. raven says

    Your #7 is dishonest quoting. The proposed law would allow religious expression anytime other non-curriculum activities are allowed.

    The quote was taken from the Newsweek article referenced in #6.

    You are making a further claim here.
    Without quoting anything.

    Do you have a quote that supports your claim that it puts religious activities on an equal basis with other non-curriculum activities?
    Whatever that means.

    PS: As other people have pointed out, this bill written by a wild eyed religious fanatic, looks like it fixes problems that don’t actually exist.
    Which means, it’s purpose is more likely to provide loopholes for fundie xians to drive their religion through and into the schools.
    I always thought we had special places for religion. Called churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, etc.

  13. PaulBC says

    This law is creating ambiguity where none existed in the first place, which is the opposite of what good legislation should do. Were teachers previously “penalizing” students for unobtrusive religious expression (e..g a cross or JMJ or some other marking outside the work area)? If so, that is a dispute that can probably be settled at the school or district level. It doesn’t sound like a real problem to me.

    But this law essentially invites students, their parents, and teachers to test the limits of how much an answer can contain an appeal to religion rather than an understanding of the class material.

  14. stroppy says

    “…ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance…”

    What ordinary standards? What substance? Ordinary standards of fundie Sunday school? Lutheran seminary exegesis? Literary analysis? The point score system used on Dancing with the Stars?


  15. Pierce R. Butler says

    On reading about this not-yet law, and pondering the bind in which it puts honest teachers, it occurred to me that they might have an easy workaround.

    Rather than, e.g., a question reading

    The Earth is ______ years old.

    to which a True Believer™ student could cheerfully write “4004 + 2019 = 6023!” – one could ask

    According to accepted geological standards, the Earth is _____ years old.

    which tests the student’s knowledge without implying they have to “accept” that information.

    It might save words to put such a qualifier at the top of the test, but that would leave clever little quote-miners an opportunity to speed-dial lawyers from “Alliance Defending Freedom” and get their piety in the headlines.

  16. says

    I have had students write religious slogans or doodle crucifixes on exam pages. As long as it isn’t done as part of the answer, it’s no problem — I’ve also had a few who would write a self-affirmation at the top of the page before plunging into an essay. It’s all good! If it helps their confidence, keep on keeping on.

    I’ve had a few very rare instances of students trying to incorporate Jesus-talk into the content of their essays, and that’s just clutter. They get marked down for that, just they would if they threw a Jack Niklaus quote into an essay on the pentose phosphate shunt. It gets in the way and distracts from the substance.

  17. PaulBC says


    which tests the student’s knowledge without implying they have to “accept” that information.

    You’re not the first to suggest this. It may be an effective workaround, but a law should be judged on whether it does something useful, not whether there are ways to work around it. This is a bad law.

    It is common enough in social studies classes (at least in my recollection) to demonstrate knowledge of concepts such as Divine Right of Kings or Labor Theory of Value without accepting these concepts as correct. Science is different, since you are usually learning correct explanations (but you could have a valid question about a refuted theory such as phlogiston). The ability to reason about concepts without affirming belief should be part of any education, though I suspect that evangelicals are especially bad at this as well.

  18. Rob Grigjanis says

    Where do you get the idea that Snopes thinks it’s harmless? I see nothing like that on the page.

  19. says

    The passed law also includes this as protected religious expression: “Any other activity of a religious nature, including wearing symbolic clothing or expression of a religious viewpoint, provided that the activity is not obscene, vulgar, offensively lewd, or indecent.”

    “Expression of a religious viewpoint” is often code for speaking out against gay rights which can lead to bullying of LGBT people at school.

  20. unclefrogy says

    as @17 there does seem to be workarounds for this unnecessary proposed law if it does happen to get fully enacted. changing the wording of tests and texts might work but it is a truly pointless politicization of what should be objective academic pursuits and an attempt to further blur the separation of church and state.

    as an aside, the kinds of arguments as in the laws wording offered by these religious politicians and any number of hyper religious others all share a kind of legalistic argument that jumps around to often contradictory points when ever questions arise that looks at the whole of any given question, a quality shared by many in the republican party especially the most vocal supporters of the alt/right. I am slow I admit, this realization came to me listening to the defense of the president and cries to hear from the whistle-blower as if that meant something, it is exactly the same kind of argument.
    uncle frogy

  21. nomdeplume says

    Doesn’t seem harmless to me. Seems another case that leaves the rest of the world, apart from those countries which are already theocracies, gobsmacked that a country as supposedly advanced as America is hell bent on a return to the Middle Ages.

  22. stroppy says


    A bill before the Ohio Legislature would allow students to give wrong answers because of their religious beliefs.

    Then there’s a bunch of chit chat…

    Well Snopes may not think it’s harmless, but they evidently don’t see it as harmful either given that the rating they provided is a decidedly unalarmed shrug.

    I think it’s safe to say that there’s nothing in the bill that precludes students from being allowed “to give wrong answers because of their religious beliefs.” As mentioned up thread, that’s the point of the bill (as well as it being a general expression of militant, fundie paranoia and counterfeit victimhood) . You don’t have to take it to court in order to comprehend that the idea of giving legitimacy to unscientific views of science in a science class is harmful.

    Shorter Snopes: waffle, waffle, waffle.

  23. stroppy says

    … put it this way, it’s a way of lodging denialist, thought interrupting rhetoric, i.e., substituting “debate” tactics for reason, in the classroom.

    Been there, done that.


  24. Pierce R. Butler says

    stroppy @ # 25: … they evidently don’t see it as harmful …

    Since the Ohio legislature has not passed this bill, nor has any other enacted anything like it, that strictly speaking does put it in the “unproven” category. Nothing more, nothing less.

  25. stroppy says

    Maybe I should have said “…don’t see it as potentially harmful?” Though I personally see even proposing it as not-a-good-thing.

    “A bill before the Ohio Legislature would allow students to give wrong answers because of their religious beliefs.”

    “would allow”

    Given the wording, how would you like to see that proved?

    Would say, legislation removing stop signs from intersections allow people to pass without stopping?

    Sometimes dumb ideas are self-evidently dumb.

  26. fmitchell says

    The ambiguity, I suspect, is the point.

    Ambiguity allows the law to seem superficially reasonable. It gives schools “discretion” to apply it as they see fit, i.e. to suit a teacher’s, or an entire school’s, religious agenda. The ambiguity lets a judge dismiss a suit based on his or her own religious bias. And, like a SLAPP suit, challenging the law in court would eventually win (unless it comes before a Trump circuit judge), but doing so would entail an intimidating amount of legal fees and court appearances.

    As with all too many laws on the books, what the law allows is what a cop, lawyer, or judge says it allows.

  27. Pierce R. Butler says

    stroppy @ # 29: … how would you like to see that proved?

    Like you, I’d rather not see if “proved” by any real-world experience – but knowing of (some of) the litigation in snopes.com history, I can appreciate how they approach definitive statements with great caution.

    Sometimes dumb ideas are self-evidently dumb.

    Not to many of those who cherish the ineffable gift of Faith.

  28. Pierce R. Butler says

    lochaber @ # 33: … weird math …

    If you start with 1 Kings 7:23 to establish that pi = 3, and combine that with Trinitarian dogma that 3 = 1, you’ve already entered non-Euclidean space where pi = 1.

    Paging Rudy Rucker, Rudy Rucker to the white ansible, please!

  29. chrislawson says

    When the Supreme Court ruled it consitutional to remove minority voting protections and call political donations free speech, did Snopes say the effect was ‘unproven’ because it had not come into law yet? This is very clearly a wedge bill. No question. The harm is it puts more pressure on science educators, gives fundamentalists more opportunities to harass them, and any attempt to get the law repealed will involve a long, expensive, energy-sapping legal dispute. And again, its sole purpose is to create a religious exemption. As PZ says, nobody’s pushing for a golfing exemption.

  30. chrislawson says

    Pierce R. Butler: careful, you might give some fundamentalist the idea to define pi = 1 in Godradians.

  31. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    If you can define pi=3, you can eventually prove 0=1. Once you do that, you can prove literally anything.
    viz. The probability that I have invisible pink unicorns in the trunk of my car must be zero, because the properties of “invisible” and “pink” are incompatible. However, 0=1, so it is 100% certain that there are invisible pink unicorns in my car. QED