I wrote last month about a mentoring program for K-12 students that was created by the state of Ohio. At the last minute, governor Kasich added a requirement that any schools applying for funds for that program had to partner with a faith-based organization. I suggested that he was pandering to the religious.
The Ohio Department of Education has now ‘clarified’ the rules, likely because they faced an inevitable legal challenge that would be long-drawn, expensive, and they would likely lose. But what they have done seems like a way to retain the religious preference.
Today, ODE didn’t change the rules, so the “faith-based” language remains in place. But it issued a “clarification” of how it now defines “faith based.” It now allows groups with certain values to fit into the “faith-based” category.
“While faith or religion may be the basis for this belief, a group does not have to be affiliated with an organized religion or faith tradition to be considered a faith- based partner; secular, non-religious, values-based organizations also qualify,” it reads.
The ACLU is not satisfied with this change.
Christine Link, director of the ACLU of Ohio, said the change may not eliminate legal issues with the program. Keeping the term “faith-based” may still violate law, she said, and the rule puts the state “in kind of a silly position” of having to decide how much a group has to show a commitment to things like “hard work,” “discipline” and “personal responsibility.”
“They’ve kind of put themselves in this position of being the moral temperature takers,” Link said.
Of course, even if they remove the ‘faith-based’ language from the rules, there is nothing to stop them from only giving money to those schools that partner with religious groups, now that they have clearly signaled that that is what they prefer. So schools likely will ‘choose’ only to partner with faith-based groups and there will have to be monitoring to see if non-faith groups are being excluded in practice even if not excluded by the rules.