Wednesday, June 25, 2008

This American Life takes on Church/State

Just listened to this episode of This American Life on the commute home today, and I would heartily recommend it anyone not overly familiar with the state of church and state in America. The first act is comprised of a fairly decent (if somewhat abridged) introduction to the issues, including some bits from AU's Rob Boston as well as a few Christian Nationalists.

Here is a brief preview:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act FINALLY DEAD?

After just a few minutes of mostly irrational argument for and against the rather innocuous sounding HB2211 (Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act) re-authored by Sally Kern* it passed in the OK house, 71-25, on March 13th. I listened to the debate that morning via live streaming audio. I was amazed at the total lack of rational discussion about this bill. Many legislators supported this bill as they seemed to think that secularists have taken God out of school and this would but him back in somehow. One legislator was against it because he ONLY wanted Christianity in schools and feared this would allow Muslims to preach in their schools. The original OK author, Rep. Mike Reynolds, interestingly only noted that this bill would take the burden of religious freedom related court costs out of local school districts and place it on the state government. Those against it were mostly concerned with the wasted effort of encoding existing legal precedence.

During this process I read the proposed bill (.rtf of the original form of the proposed bill) and discussed and debated it among friends. There appeared to be two big arguments against it. The first, which was heavily promoted by Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE), was that the language would allow any religious view promoted in class work could trump any kind of correction, including grading. The thought was that little Johnnie could say pi = 3 not 3.14159... because the bible says so and his geometry teacher couldn't say he was wrong, or "Genesis 1: God did it!" must be accepted as a correct answer in an evolution chapter in biology. The actual wording that sparked these fears are these (HB2211 Sect 4):

...students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Homework and classroom assignments shall be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school district. Students shall not be penalized or rewarded on account of the religious content of their work.
It was my understanding that this was already the case. Courts have generally ruled that religious expression in art and writing assignments was acceptable and couldn't be downgraded or censored if the work was otherwise within the framework of the assignment. I suppose I can see how some school district might be able to twist the rather clear meaning into a policy that is more suspect, but whenever that inevitable case went to court I'd be surprised to see a judge interpret this law in a way that would overturn existing judicial interpretation of federal law.

The second argument, and in my opinion the stickier part of the original proposed law, was that the model policy that all Oklahoma schools were supposed to adopt would set up a limited public forum which effectively created a loophole to allow a select few students to espouse their religious views over public address systems during school and school related activities. This was a clear response to the Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe case in Texas which ruled out student lead prayers over public address systems at High School football games. Just look at what comes up first in the list of proposed limited public forums:

ARTICLE II. STUDENT SPEAKERS AT NONGRADUATION EVENTS A. The school district hereby creates a limited public forum for student speakers at all school events at which a student is to publicly speak. For each speaker, the district shall set a maximum time limit as enumerated below, reasonable and appropriate to the occasion. Student speakers shall introduce:

1. Football games;

2. Any other athletic events designated by the district;

3. Opening announcements and greetings for the school day; and...

This brings me back to Mike Reynold's house floor comments. His comments were really the most relevant that day as this is really all about future courthouse battles. Mike Reynolds, my representative and the information systems director of Vision America, wanted this policy in place as a tool to overturn judicial precedence. With this law in place it becomes the States responsibility, with all of its money and might, to fight the first amendment religious liberty challenges. Challenges that HAVE been about respecting the freedoms of the minority from being trampled upon my the majority. Without the fear of being responsible for losing tax payer money in expensive legal battles local school boards could have ran wild with evangelical fervor in our public classrooms.

On March 23rd HB2211 was assigned to the Senate Rules Committee were it soon died, only to be resurrected as an amendment to HB2633 (.doc file of amendment) much of the legally iffy language detailing the limited public forum model policy excoriated. Twelve pages of carefully crafted wording was reduced to a three page amendment. What remained was mostly the unnecessary interpretation of existing judicial rulings with a bit of ambiguous wording that many had feared could turn the school lectern into a pulpit. Much thanks goes to the efforts of leaders and members of OESE that lead the charge to attempt to put down this bill. OESE sent out many media alerts detailing their fears that this bill was another example Creationism's Trojan Horse efforts. Unfortunately it passed 48-0!

In a very pleasant turn of events on June 6th, 2008 Governor Henry VETOs 2633 with the attached message of explanation (source):

Under current state and federal law, Oklahoma public school students are already allowed to express their faith through voluntary prayer and other activities. While well intended, this legislation is vaguely written and may trigger a number of unintended consequences that actually impede rather than enhance such expression. For example, under this legislation, schools could be forced to provide equal time to fringe organizations that masquerade as religions and advocate behaviors, such as drug use or hate speech, that are dangerous or offensive to students and the general public. Additionally, the bill would presumably require school officials to determine what constitutes legitimate religious expression, subjecting them to an explosion of costly and protracted litigation that would have to be defended at taxpayers' expense.

Until the next incarnation....

*Actually silly Sally got it from Mike Reynolds who drafted it after the Texas version, which originated with Kelly Coghlan, the Houston attorney behind the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act passed by the Texas legislature in 2007. "Our goal is to practice law by the Book, the website announces":

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

John McCain on Christian Nationalism

A question of 501(c)(3) rules of engagement. Might we post quotes or interviews of currect political candidates and allow for comment on them here without crossing the line? If not, please delete this post forthwith. Thanks!

Monday, June 9, 2008

A little review of AUOK activities this year so far.

On March 29th, 2008 AUOK hosted the "Information Forum: The State of Separation of Church & State in Oklahoma" at OCCC in Oklahoma City.
We had several very informative forum discussions. The following links will take you to Google videos of three of them. Abbie Smith presented: Should Intelligent Design be discussed in Public Schools? Jim Huff presented: Legislating Religious Expression in Public Schools. Dr. Bruce Prescott presented: Origin of the Oklahoma Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives. Former Rep. Debbie Blackburn presented: Use of State Tax Dollars to Fund OFBCI Projects. The Keynote Speaker was Arnold Hamilton, Oklahoma Observer Editor, presenting a talk entitled, "A Perspective on the Status of Separation of Church and State in Oklahoma".

Attendees drove in from all corners of the state and participated in lively discussion about these important and timely topics. AUOK plans to repeat a similar forum next spring. I'm sure we can count on local legislators and activists to help raise some new issues for us to discuss then.

A few days prior on Mar 26th AUOK along with the Interfaith Alliance and many many more groups nationwide in the First Freedom First Telecast. This event included Actors, musicians and comedians joining church-state community members in 25 theaters across the country to put church-state separation on the national agenda during the 2008 election season. If you missed it or want to watch it again, the full program is available online here.

On May 1st the 2008 Interfaith Day of Prayer and Reflection took place on the south steps of our state capitol buidling. The event was a celebration of freedom of conscience for ALL people.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Greetings from Nathan Richmond

I must admit that for being a relatively young member of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State this is my first venture into blogging so please bare with my early posting efforts until I get the hang of things. There is a strong desire within the leadership of AUOK to shake things up a bit and this is a subtle gesture toward that end... I hope.

AU Oklahoma is Online

Welcome to Oklahoma's Americans United weblog. This is a group weblog that will feature entries from religious liberty advocates in the state of Oklahoma.

I'll introduce our bloggers as they come online.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

"Rally for Sally" at Oklahoma State Capitol

Here follows the complete text of the speech given by Sally Kern in the rotunda of the State Capitol on April 2nd, 2008.  It is recorded on the AUOK blog for archival and commentary purposes.

This rally, Freedom of Speech Rally for Sally, is really about freedom of speech for all of us. This is not about me. It's about the Church having the right to speak out about the redeeming love of Jesus Christ who died to set us all free. I really, I mean, I read my Bible all the time anyway, but I've really been in the Scripture, and God gave me a verse right after this happened.  In Philippines 1:12, the Apostle Paul said "I want you to know that what has happened to me has really served for the advancement of the gospel."  That's the way I'm looking at this, to God be the glory. 

I've gotten lots of e-mail lately, to put it mildly. Some have been good, for those of you that sent good ones, I thank you for them, I appreciate it.  Some have not been so good. I've been called lots of names. I can't repeat most of those names. Some of the good names that I have been called have been courageous, brave, and a hero. I want you to know, I mean this with all my heart, I have more trouble relating to those good names than I do the bad names.  I say that, because I know I'm a sinner, and [inaudible] I'm not courageous, I'm not brave, and I'm certainly not a hero. I'm just an earthen vessel, an old clay pot, the way Second Corinthians 4:7 says, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, clay jars that show that this surpassing power is from God." So the last few weeks have been pretty tough - I have to be honest - but God's grace has been sufficient. So if I seem courageous, if I seem brave, if I seem like a hero, I want you to know it's God's grace, and to Him be the glory.

When I gave that now infamous speech, I was not putting down any individual. I believe each and every person is created in God's image and is precious in His sight. He loves all of them. He loves us all equally and He loves us regardless of what our sin is. Yet, God is not just a God of love, He is also a Righteous and Holy God who sent His Son to die for our sins so that we could have forgiveness and experience life abundantly, but to have His forgiveness, we must first acknowledge our sin. We can't excuse it, or try to justify it.

Let me tell you why I will not, why I cannot, apologize for my comments. First, I believe God's Word. When God calls something a sin, then that settles it, it is a sin. God never changes, He said He's the same yesterday, today, and forever, and His Word never changes.  My opinion doesn't matter, what matters is God's Word.

Second, this nation was founded on Christian principles, some say that's not the case, but they need to read their primary sources of our Founding Fathers.  

[sustained applause]

We all know Patrick Henry's famous words "Give me liberty or give me death," but do you know that he also said
"It cannot be emphasized too strongly, or too often, that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

[sustained applause]

Some say we should separate church and state.  God never intended to separate the influence of our faith from the institutions of government.  He wanted to separate the institutions: He didn't want the Church controlling the State, nor did He want the State controlling the Church.  But you cannot separate your faith from life, Christians can't do that.

Noah Webster, who wrote the dictionary back in 1828, said these words, when he was writing to schoolchildren, he said "When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for public officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers just or righteous men who will rule in the fear of God."  I believe those words.

The third reason that I cannot apologize is because I told the people when I was running for this office that I was a Christian candidate and that I believed we were in a cultural war for the very existence of our Judeo-Christian values. This situation proves that I was right, we are in a cultural war, it is real. This situation gives me the opportunity to keep my promise to those who voted for me, and that's what I'm doing.

Psalms 11:3 says "When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?" We can remember that the foundation of society is the home as established by God —one man and one woman.  We can remember that the foundation of this nation was Christianity, so teach it to our children.  The foundation of the Church is God's Word, so believe it and practice it every day. The foundation of salvation is Christ dying for a lost world in bondage to sin. Proclaim the Truth that will set people free.

I'd like to ask you to do something when you go home today: go turn on all the lights in your bedroom, and then get in the closet (make sure there are no lights on in there), stand in the dark for few minutes, and then open the closet door and notice what happens. You're going to see that the darkness does not swoop out of the closet and overtake the light. No, the light spreads into the closet dispelling the darkness. Our world is dark with sin today, not because of the homosexuals, not because of the murderers, or drug addicts, or anybody else we could name. It's dark because the Church, you and me, have not let our light shine.  So what do we the righteous do to shore up the foundations, we need to pray with all of our hearts.  II Chronicles 7:14: "If My people who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven and will heal their land."

Thank God we still have freedom of speech in America.  Let us speak while we still can. God bless you and God bless America.

I can personally attest to the content of this sermonette, having witnessed it firsthand and having obtained a low-quality bootleg of the speech itself, the source file of which copylefted under a Creative Commons license.