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Gov. Brad Henry should veto House Bill 2633, which contains a religious intrusion act authored by state Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma). The act, which has passed the Oklahoma House and Senate, promotes religious expression in public schools.
Below are sixteen reasons why Henry should veto the bill. The list was created by Victor H. Hutchison on May 13, 2008, with assistance from many others. Hutchison is Founder and current President of Oklahomans for Science Education (OESE), and George Lynn Cross Professor Emeritus, Department of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma.
Comments on why Sally Kern’s “Religious Viewoints Anti-discrimination Act” as an amendment to House Bill 2633 is very bad for Oklahoma and why parts may be Unconstitutional
1. It takes away local control from a school board in some instances.
2. It contains mandates that will cost money. There are requirements of printing and hours for policy development by local school districts. But more importantly, it REQUIRES that the Oklahoma Attorney General defend any lawsuits against a school/school board, thus placing the financial burden on State taxpayers and perhaps burdening the Office of the Attorney General that has more important legal matters to consider.
3. The requirement that the Attorney General to defend any law suits was designed to encourage schools/school boards to experiment with allowing some religious activities that may be unconstitutional, since they would face no financial burdens.
4. The bill creates a Limited Public Forum requiring strict scrutiny of Freedom of Speech as ruled by the Supreme Court in Hazelwood School District v Kuhkmer, 1988, yet this bill limits who can have this free speech. In so doing, there can exist a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal treatment under the law clause. If the school house is a Closed Forum, then speech can be censored as described by several Supreme Court cases. However, when a Limited Forum is allowed, speech cannot be censored regardless of the content. While this bill opens the door for religious speech, this would also have to include radical Islamic speech, Ku Klux Klan speech, or other speech that could call for the overthrow of the US government or the like.
5. This Limited Public Forum is opened up for such activities as football games in which the Supreme Court has ruled against prayer over a PA system that was established by district policy and policy that dictated whether a prayer would be given and a process to elect the prayer in Santa Fe v Does, 2000. HB 2633 establishes a procedure that determines who could give religious speech and when it could be given. In effect, it allows a student to make a football game, athletic contest, a school assembly, opening exercise at school into a religious or solemn occasion at the whim of a student and make all those in attendance captive to this particular speech or event – regardless of the language used as long as it is not “obscene, vulgar, offensively lewd, or indecent speech or speech promoting illegal drug use.” It could be offensively religious or promote the over throw of the US or many other areas that would be offensive to all sorts of people. It is not limited to ‘Christian’ beliefs, although the authors intended
the bill to support ‘Christian’ activities only.
6. Part of what this bill does is create its own version of the Equal Access Act, 1984 which withstood a Supreme Court challenge, Board of Ed of Westside Community School v Mergens, 1990.
7. In Wallace v Jaffey, 1985, the Supreme Court ruled the Alabama law for a moment of silence to start the school day was unconstitutional because it had been modified with the only intent of encouraging prayer. The moment of silence was okay, but for the state to coerce people (students) to pray was wrong. It was to be absolutely voluntary. This bill’s intent seems to be to inject religious activities into the school at the whim of a student.
8. No court has ever ruled against voluntary private prayer. But this bill will allow religious activities to be forced on other people at events that should be inclusive for everyone. Only the most popular or brightest will be allowed to participate “as the school district may designate.” (Line 21, page 6 of the original HB 2211 bill.)
10. Rep. Kern stated in the House debate that the bill would save money and prevent lawsuits. An almost identical bill in Texas that is now law has already resulted in lawsuits in at least two school districts. In opposing the Texas legislation the Dallas Morning News editorialized ‘Watch the Lawsuits Come Rolling in.”
11. Some attorneys for school boards in Texas have told their clients that they could not provide legal advice on how to put the policies into effect, but could only respond with advice on a given particular case. This is a result of the stealth and ambiguous language in the law.
12. Analyses of the constitutional and other problems with the almost identical Texas law are also available from organizations that fought the bill there, including the Texas Freedom Network, Texas Academy of Science, and Texas Citizens for Science. Many Texas educators, scientists and clergy members opposed the bill there.
13. About half of the language in HB 2633 only codifies what is already provided by former Supreme Court decisions. Students can pray in school, form religious clubs like any other student organizations, can meet at recess or before and after school at the flagpole for prayer, etc. There is absolutely no need for this part of the bill. Schools are already well aware of what is constitutional and what is not. Schools have policies in place that deal with students and their freedoms of religious expression. If a school becomes in violation of the federal law and case law, they can be sued and will lose if they are indeed not allowing a student to exercise their religious freedom. This law is not needed nor is it wanted. It will cause more harm than good.
14. Although the bill does not directly mention evolution, one major aim is to dilute science teaching. This has been made clear by statements of Oklahoma and Texas legislators in e-mails written in answer to voters who wrote in opposition to the bill (some of these e-mails are available and might be useful in a court case?). This is a reason that creationist and intelligent design proponents nationally have supported the legislation.
15. The economic impact should be considered. HB 2633 would not help Oklahoma recruit scientists, educators at all levels, and the high tech/med tech industry the State desires. The Governor of Kansas emphasized this important aspect when Kansas was dealing with the religious decisions of the Kansas State School Board, now reversed since the fundamentalist members lost their control in an election.
16. The following State and National organizations have prepared press releases and statements of why HB 2633 is bad for both religion and science and why it would reflect badly upon Oklahoma. These are available upon request:
Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education
Oklahoma Academy of Science
Oklahoma Science Teachers Association
Oklahoma Mainstream Baptists
Oklahoma City Interfaith Alliance
Tulsa Interfaith Alliance
National office of Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Oklahoma Chapter, Americans United for Separation of Church and State
The Oklahoma State Schools Board also opposed the bill according to quotes in the printed media. The State Capitol coalition of education organizations/lobbyists also opposed the bill.
Hutchison can provide additional information and documents to support the points made above and can refer interested parties to other in
dividuals that can supply expert opinions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org