GOP lawmaker denies ties to religious group pushing to let students give wrong answers


State Rep. Tim Ginter's (R) proposed religious exemption from facts reportedly came from a Christianist advocacy group.

A controversial Ohio bill that would allow public school students to give wrong answers citing their religious beliefs was apparently pushed by a Christianist organization that seeks to replace the separation of church and state with far-right Christian Evangelical theocracy.

While the proposal's legislative sponsor denied any connection, he is reportedly the co-chair of the group's Ohio affiliate.

Ohio state Rep. Tim Ginter (R) is a longtime pastor and third-term legislator who previously advocated for "religious liberty" legislation to allow religious groups more access to government facilities. He is also the primary sponsor of the "Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act."

The proposal would ensure that religious speech and student activity is protected like other kinds of speech and that no student is prohibited from "engaging in religious expression in the completion of homework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments." Instead of being graded on whether answers are correct, it would require that it be done based on "substance and relevance," and that teachers "not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student's work."

According to reporting from the Guardian, this bill — designated Ohio House Bill 164 — was virtually identical to a proposal by Project Blitz.

Project Blitz is a state legislative coalition and ALEC-like model bill mill, led by the three Christian right groups: Congressional Prayer Caucus, WallBuilders, and the ProFamily Legislators Conference. It pushes state governments to adopt theocratic legislation that it claims would merely "protect religious freedom, preserve America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and promote prayer."

The Guardian reported on Monday that Ginter claimed (through an aide) he had "no knowledge of 'Project Blitz' and has not been working with WallBuilders or the Congressional Prayer Caucus."

But the outlet found that Ginter was listed as co-chair of the Ohio Legislative Prayer Caucus, the Congressional Prayer Caucus' state affiliate. The official Ohio Caucus says its members are "committed to advancing policies and initiatives" that promote same same three aims as Project Blitz.

He was also a signatory to the Congressional Prayer Caucus' 2015 Ohio Prayer Proclamation.

Ginter did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the apparent contradiction and did not answer repeated followup calls and emails from the Guardian.

Researcher Frederick Clarkson, an expert on the Christian right movement, told the paper that he would call Ginter's denial "an outright lie."

"The Prayer Caucus in the states are the action arm of Project Blitz — it is Project Blitz," Frederick Clarkson claimed. "When [Ginter] told you, 'I've never heard of Project Blitz,' that was a lie."

House Bill 164 passed last month on a mostly party-line vote in the GOP-controlled Ohio House and now awaits action in the also-GOP-controlled Ohio Senate.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.