An Oklahoma House bill called "The Religious Viewpoints Anti-discrimination Act" is just another deceptive initiative to further erode the country's constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state.
The bill could ultimately lead to a myriad of lawsuits and administrative problems in state schools.
State Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, who has promoted religion-based legislation in the past, sponsored the bill, which passed out of the House Education Committee. House Bill 2211 supposedly protects students from religious discrimination in schools, but its real purpose is to advance a fundamentalist Christian agenda. The religious right tries to deceive people by using the progressive language of "anti-discrimination," but its intent is always to make the world less diverse, less sophisticated.
The bill, modeled after legislation passed in Texas last year, was initially sponsored by Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, in the House. Kern, who is married to a Baptist pastor, is now the House sponsor. It is unclear how much overall support the bill has in either the Oklahoma House or Senate.
The bill would do two things: One, schools could not discriminate against religious viewpoints. Two, schools would have to provide forums for the expression of religious viewpoints. On the surface, this may seem innocuous enough, but the potential negative impact of the bill cannot be overstated.
If the bill makes it into law, students might be able to refuse to do classroom assignments or homework because of religious beliefs. Students could also reject without penalty certain scientific methods or historical teaching. Students might simply refuse to attend a lecture on evolution or take a test about it. They might refuse to takes tests about the Earth's geological age or about a literary text that does not fit their views.
By providing forums for religious viewpoints " don't forget that prayer at the pole events are already quite common at Oklahoma schools " schools could force students to listen to evangelical appeals at assemblies or over intercom systems. Adherents of other religions besides Christianity " Muslims, for example " would no doubt offer competing views. Wiccans, for example, might make appeals to students. Atheists and agnostics would have their say, as well.
All this would waste precious school time and cause headaches for administrators as they monitor religious speech. It seems highly likely that some student at some school on some particular day would feel slighted if a particular religious viewpoint wasn't honored.
Victor Hutchison, professor emeritus of zoology at the University of Oklahoma, argues the bill is "clearly unconstitutional and likely to end the state in federal court."
"Parts of the bill allow students to practice their religion, which are currently constitutional and do not need to be included," he said. "The most egregious parts, however, are the Trojan horse measures that would allow religion into many aspects of the curriculum, including creationism in science courses, (and) the inability of teachers to grade down a student who gives a religious viewpoint in places that is not applicable."
Oklahomans would be wise to listen to Hutchison, who leads Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, an organization that continues to fight against the creationism-in-schools movement here.
Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and author of the progressive blog "Okie Funk: Notes From the Outback," www.okiefunk.com.