My session-end reflections about this year’s state legislature have been delayed by the writing I did in the aftermath of the tornadoes that struck here in late May, killing more than 40 people.
Pundits and politicians recently weighed in with their so-called legislative “report cards” as if their political affiliation or ideology doesn’t somehow matter in the process. Gov. Mary Fallin gave the session an A, for example. Really? That should be enough said about this silly annual ritual.
I won’t rehash the small Republican tax cut that might not even make it through a court challenge or the almost complete lack of compassion among Republicans when it comes to expanding Medicaid coverage here under the Affordable Care Act. The “Fallin A” includes that and more. Fallin and other Republicans also point to so-called reform of the workers’ compensation system this year, but reform is a double-edged sword. Benefits to injured workers will be cut for the sake of business profits.
I do want to talk about one complete win this legislative session for progressives and intellectuals in the state. That win includes the demise of all religious intrusion bills attacking directly or indirectly the teaching of evolution in schools. The overall purpose of these bills is really nothing less than to replace science and rational thought with right-wing Christian dogma in our schools. It’s an open attempt at religious indoctrination, although its supporters-the religious folks-are not upfront about it.
The bills that were considered this year included HB 1674, which claimed topics such as evolution, cloning and global warming are controversial and thus teachers should focus on the strengths and weaknesses of their claims. The main problem, of course, is there’s no controversy among scientists about these subjects. The controversy is generated by right-wing Christian fundamentalists.
A somewhat similar bill, SB 758, ended up dead as well. Two other bills HB 1940 and HB 1456, or “Religious Viewpoint Antidiscrimination Acts,” which would have brought all kinds of religious dogma into our public schools didn’t make it through either.
It might seem like a small victory, but for 13 years now the intellectual community has fought this type of backwards legislation and won. I’ve been publicly opposing anti-evolution bills here for about eight or nine years. It’s draining. Those who would turn our government and schools into theocracies are relentless. They believe themselves to be on a mission from their God.
One organization leading the fight for intellectual integrity again this year was Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education. Its founder, Dr. Victor Hutchison, who is George Lynn Cross Research Professor Emeritus in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma, deserves yet another round of applause for his diligence in following the legislation and getting the intellectual community to contact legislators.
“The demise of these bills this year can be attributed to the large number of messages sent to the appropriate committees by national and state organizations and the individuals who responded to requests to help,” Hutchison wrote in a recent OESE email. “To all who did, THANK YOU – your efforts paid off as usual! None of these types of bill have passed during the past 13 years! However, we will likely have to continue opposition next year. The authors of these bills, and their supportive legislators, continue to be anti-science and, in many ways, anti-education.”
I’ll give Hutchison an A in my legislative report card and leave the rest of the grading to someone else.