March 2015 Church & State | AU Bulletin

A student mentoring program in Ohio will no longer require public schools to partner with faith-based organizations to be eligible.

Gov. John Kasich’s “Community Connectors” program allocated $10 million for mentorships, but the faith-based requirement was added after legislators voted to approve the program. After complaints from Americans United and the Americans Civil Liberties Union’s Ohio affiliate, the Kasich administration changed course.

In a letter, Americans United attorneys called the faith-based requirement “unconstitutional,” despite a provision mandating that religious participants sign an agreement not to proselytize to students.

“Many religious folk feel a powerful need to proselytize and see the public schools as a mission field; it is the height of naiveté to assume they will refrain from ministering to students,” the letter argued. The letter also threatened legal action if the Kasich administration did not move swiftly to make sure the program no longer violated the Constitution.

Although the “faith-based” language is still present, groups no longer have to be religiously affiliated in order to qualify as a mentorship partner. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Ohio Department of Education issued new guidelines announcing that “secular, non-religious, values-based organizations also qualify” for part­ici­pation­ in the program.