Oklahoma’s war on secularism

Author: Serge Melki from Indianapolis, USA (Oklahoma State Capitol  Uploaded by russavia)  Source: Wikimedia Commons

Author: Serge Melki from Indianapolis, USA (Oklahoma State Capitol Uploaded by russavia)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

For a nation that enshrined a separation of church and state into its principal founding document in very unequivocal terms, it seems that one of its major parties in 2013 – whilst asking you to “take a stand for freedom” – doesn’t appear to understand the very first amendment to the Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ….”

– Article 1 of the United States Constitution is quite clear. Your religion has no place enshrined in common law. If that isn’t clear enough, the concept is further elaborated on by Thomas Jefferson, in a letter from 1801 addressed to the Danbury Baptists:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”

– The Founders quite obviously wished to see religious freedom enshrined, with no one faith supreme, no one faith recognised by the state in any official capacity. There is no special place afforded to Christianity in the cogs of state. Freedom for all beliefs, and freedom from all beliefs.

Over 200 years later, and Republicans in Oklahoma’s state legislature seem devoted to shattering the secular founding document that they so ironically claim to revere.

In 2008 Democrat governor of Oklahoma, Brad Henry, had to veto a bill passed by the Republican-controlled Oklahoma state legislature that was designed specifically to force a woman to have an ultrasound – by law – before having an abortion. A woman seeking an abortion would then have a picture of the ultrasound placed in front of her, be forced to look at it, and be forced to listen to a state-mandated script. If she refused, she’d be denied the right to an abortion. In essence, lawmakers in Oklahoma passed a law transferring ownership of the bodies of all women to the Republican Party, for Jesus.

Ironically, this ‘pro life’ attitude doesn’t seem to extend to any time after the child is born, given that Republicans from Oklahoma – including Republican Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Agricultural Committee – proposed and voted to cut food stamps for 637,000 residents of the State.

In 2011, the Republican-controlled House in Oklahoma passed a bill – which ultimately failed – that proposed to make stem cell research illegal, and furthermore, illegal for scientists to buy, sell, or transfer stem-cells for research. Research that very recently, led a research team from the University of Queensland to turn an embryonic stem cell into a fully functioning component of the kidney, leading to incredible hope for those suffering an agonising wait for a kidney transplant. The Bill to ban stem cell research was led by Republican George Faught, a Christian supremacist who, back in 2007, attempted to make English the official language of the state, despite strong opposition from native tribes. Faught appears entirely unable to distinguish between the founding documents, and the Bible. On his Facebook page, Faught says:

– Here, we can presume that Faught believes marriage is defined by the Bible. Though he seems to ignore passages like Deuteronomy 21:11-13, which demand a female captive shave her head, before you decide to marry her (she’s given no choice in this). Republican Biblical marriage tradition only appears to extend to cover homophobia. Faught is certain that the US is country founded on the Christian religion. So what did the Founders think of that? Well, Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli, written by 2nd President John Adams, states:

“…the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…”

– Adams reflects the desire of practically all of the founding generation, to separate religion from the power of state. Faught wishes to remarry religion – his religion – to the power of state.

In 2011, under the guise of “academic freedom” Oklahoma Senate Bill 554 was proposed. The purpose of which was to present evolution as a “controversial topic”, opening the gates to creationism in science lessons:

“The State Department of Education, or any school district or school district administrator, shall not prohibit any teacher from informing students about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses of controversial topics in sciences, when being taught in accordance with adopted standards and curricula. Controversial topics in sciences include but are not limited to biological origins of life and biological evolution.”

– Evolution is only a “controversial topic” to creationists. One of those creationists, is the sole sponsor of SB 554, Republican Josh Brecheen. Having failed with Senate Bill 554, Brechen tried again in 2012, with Senate Bill 1742. This Bill, again, subtly allows creationism to be presented as a reasonable alternative to evolution. 1742 states:

SECTION 2: A. The State Board of Education, upon the request of a school district board of education, shall allow and assist teachers, principals, and school administrators in creating an environment within the public school system that promotes critical thinking, logical analysis, open and objective discussion of scientific theories including, but not limited to, evolution, the origin of life, global warming, and human cloning.

– His motives for the two bills can perhaps be discerned from his previous statements:

“One of the bills I will file this year may be dismissed as inferior by “intellectuals” so I wanted to devote particular time in discussing it’s merits… I’m talking about the religion of evolution. Yes, it is a religion. The religion of evolution requires as much faith as the belief in a loving God”

“I have introduced legislation requiring every publicly funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution using the known science, even that which conflicts with Darwin’s religion.”

– There is no debate to teach. It is like suggesting that a debate exists between medicine and faith healing. Creation mythology – like faith healing – is not scientific; that is, it is not based on observation, nor experimentation. And which creation myth must we teach alongside evolution? Why not the Zuni creation myth with the sun God Awonawilona? Theology and philosophy are separate subjects and should not in any way be confused with science. And yet, here is a State Senator wishing to devalue scientific inquiry by marrying its methods to those of philosophy and theology. This is simply Brecheen’s attempts to perpetuate his mythological beliefs by infecting the minds of the young with his ignorance.

It is also dangerous. We would not allow medical teaching to be compromised by forcing students to have that time taken up by learning faith healing. Similarly, evolution is the basis of medicine, biology, zoology, genetics, and a raft of other vital subjects. Students in science lessons should not have that precious time taken up by mythological guesses.

In the spirit of secularism, perhaps Oklahoma’s Republicans believe all have a right to enshrine their faith into common law in much the same way as Christians seem to be attempting to do? Well no. Republicans in Oklahoma believe in separation of state and religions that aren’t Christianity. In 2013, the state legislature proposed an amendment to the state constitution banning sharia law from any form of recognition in the state (as if Muslim theocrats have decided the place to launch a new Caliphate, is Oklahoma). This, at the same time that House Speaker T.W.Shannon sponsored House Bill 1908 – eventually passed in May – that diverts funds from the vital Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, to an advertising campaign promoting the virtues of Christian marriage. Breaking down the wall of separation, enshrining Christian values, subjugating the religious values of others, and taking vital assistance away from the most vulnerable. This is Theocracy in Oklahoma.

It seems ‘freedom of religion’ to Oklahoma’s Republicans means the freedom to live under the watchful and forceful eye of the state’s Christians. This represents nothing more than a war on secularism, for the promotion of a Christian Theocracy. Regardless, their attempts will always fail at the level of the Supreme Court, because when it comes to the basis of law and structure in the United States, the only document that matters is the secular Constitution. A Constitution under constant attack from Republicans in Oklahoma.

But all is not lost! There is a fight back against Christian supremacy in the state of Oklahoma. In November 2012, a ten commandments monument was erected outside of the Oklahoma State Capitol building – quite obviously endorsing one faith – donated by Republican state representative Mike Ritze. We shall call Mike Ritze, an anti-constitutionalist. By contrast, pro-secular, pro-constitutional opposition to the monument sprang up. Rajan Zed of the Universal Society of Hinduism is petitioning to have a statue of a Hindu god placed outside the Oklahoma State Capitol building. Rajan said:

“We would love to have a statue of Lord Hanuman, who was greatly revered and worshiped and known for incredible strength and was a perfect grammarian.”

– Similarly, The Satantic Temple are hoping to erect a monument to Satan on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol, in response to the ten commandments monument. Oklahoma Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon’s spokesman Joe Griffin said that it was inappropriate to have a monument to Satan on the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds. Joe Griffin seems unaware that according to the Constitution, it is equally as inappropriate to have the ten commandments monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol. Either all beliefs are recognised equally, or none at all.

5 Responses to Oklahoma’s war on secularism

  1. B Rauser says:

    I would be interested to see your thoughts on Canadian politics. Under the current government things are not as progressive. Scientisists working for the government are being shut up.

  2. Dave Day says:

    I think every first science lesson of every term should start with a look at the creation story in Genesis. It should then be critically compared with what we can actually see, measure, and conclude about our universe.

    To believe that the creation story was completed in 6 literal days is farcical. To believe that ‘God’ created the earth, grass, and other plants before the sun and the rest of the universe requires the religious to believe in some light source other than the sun to keep the plants on earth alive while God is finishing things up elsewhere. I guess they’d have to believe in a ‘glow-in-the-dark God’!

    I’ve not looked, but I’ve been told there is a different version of the creation story later on in the Old Testament, where things go slightly differently. Maybe God got confused about how he created the universe, or just plain forgot. Either way he never seems to have seen fit to add much detail, nor cleared up the discrepancies in his own book!

  3. […] via Oklahoma’s war on secularism. […]

  4. […] noted in yesterday’s article on the Christian-right in Oklahoma – they are not happy unless their faith dictates the operation of the state, the media, […]

  5. […] continuing its fight to enshrine Christian privilege into the mechanism of state (particularly Oklahoma). It is a similar tale in the UK. It was unsurprising that the voices of dissent over the […]

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