(Update: The committee passed the bill on a 9 to 7 vote. The bill had been amended to give school districts the choice to follow the new law or not. If school districts do choose to follow the edicts in the bill, it will lead to lawsuits and unnecessary religious conflict.)
An Oklahoma legislative committee will consider a bill today that could turn the state’s public schools into bastions of religious turmoil and fundamental Christian extremism.
House Bill 1001, the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act, sponsored by state Rep, Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, would require school districts to treat religious speech the same as secular speech and prevent schools from discriminating against students who submit religious arguments in their homework and other assignments.
The bill also would allow students to express religious ideas in a “limited public forum.”
In essence, the bill would create tension between varying religions on school campuses while undoubtedly privileging the dominant religion here, which, of course, is Christianity. It could lead to unnecessary conflict and lawsuits and could result in unintended consequences, such as the dissemination of information by cults.
The bill would allow students to present illogical and nonacademic ideas in classes, especially science and history courses, and this would dumb down the curriculum and make our students less knowledgeable and competitive than those from other states.
The bill has been presented in the past as a way to prevent religious discrimination, but it’s difficult not to view the bill as a part of the religious right’s quest to bring Christian ideas about evolution and history into the classroom. In his legislative profile, Reynolds is described as “an Ordained Deacon and a member of Southern Hills Baptist Church.” Former Gov. Brad Henry vetoed a similar bill after it passed the House and Senate, but this year Republican Gov. Mary Fallin is governor. Will that make a difference? The bill is modeled after one passed in Texas.
The House Common Education Committee will consider the bill today at 10:30 a.m. in room 412C at the State Capitol.
You can find a list of the committee’s members here.
(I wrote about the bill recently in the Oklahoma Gazette.)