Steve Smith, an Ohio 10th-grade student in a public school, was taking a test for his Introduction to Geology class when he encountered the following question: How old is the Earth?
Smith is a fundamentalist Christian who rejects evolution and the idea of an ancient planet and believes that the account of Noah's Ark in the Book of Genesis is literally true, so he wrote down "6,000 years." His answer is factually wrong--evidence shows that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old--but since Smith's answer was motivated by his religious beliefs, under Ohio law his teacher could not mark it wrong, and he got credit for the answer.
This scenario is fictional. But it's something that could play out in Ohio and possibly other states if the Christian nationalists at Project Blitz have their way.
Legislation called the Student Religious Liberties Act passed the Ohio House of Representatives in November. The bill in part says that public school teachers and other education officials may not "penalize or reward" students on the basis of their religious beliefs, and how those beliefs translate into speech in the classroom and in assignments.
Versions of the bill have appeared in other states. Evidence indicates that they are tied to Project Blitz, a theocratic drive to pass legislation in the states that weakens the separation of religion and government.
The bill's backers in Ohio insisted that the measure was not inspired by Project Blitz, but the British newspaper The Guardian reported Nov. 22 that the bill's language is nearly identical to the wording in a piece of model legislation that appeared in a playbook issued by Project Blitz in 2018-2019.
Americans United says this is no coincidence.
Maggie Garrett, AU's vice president for public policy, noted that the ideas behind the Ohio legislation are not new; but, she told The Guardian, they've been adopted by Project Blitz.
"This bill has been around since before the Project Blitz campaign, but the bill is part of the Project Blitz playbook," said Garrett. "We will be seeing more of these bills in the future because we're certainly seeing an increase in other Project Blitz bills."
The legislation, HB 164, will likely spawn confusion in the classroom, AU noted. After the bill cleared the Ohio House, a spate of stories appeared in the media asserting it would allow students to give wrong answers on tests and other school work as long as they claimed they're motivated by religion.
The bill's sponsor, Ohio...