Brogdon Bill Bites Dust; Committee Considers Kern Measure

Image of GOP Lege Reps

(The image to the right is from PhotoTune.)

It’s good news for Oklahoma students and the state’s scientific community that a legislative committee defeated an anti-evolution bill this week.

But a pending bill, sponsored by state Rep. Sally Kern, pictured right, still threatens to bring more religion into our public schools.

The defeated bill, disingenuously called the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act, was killed by the Senate Education Committee, which voted 7 to 6 against the measure. State Sen. Randy Brogdon, an Owasso Republican, sponsored the legislature, which is now supposedly dead for two years, according to legislative rules.

I write “supposedly dead” because legislators will sometimes attach the language of some measures to other bills.

As I wrote recently in an Oklahoma Gazette article, “The bill had the potential to dumb down Oklahoma students, who, under the bill, couldn’t be penalized because they subscribed “to a particular position on scientific theories,” (i.e., anti-evolution dogma). Teachers could feel pressured to bring religious or political ideas masquerading as pseudoscience into science classrooms. This dumbing down could reduce the state’s ability to produce physicians, scientists and medical workers or deter people from the state’s medical research community.”

In essence, SB 320 would have allowed the state’s science teachers to present information challenging evolution theory, which the legislation labeled controversial. But the theory is only controversial in a religious sense because it seems to contradict creationism.

The bill was a disingenuous attempt to get intelligent design ideas in the science classroom. Intelligent design is creationism masquerading as science. It argues the world is so complicated it must have been created by a designer, but there is no scientific evidence to support this. It’s only dressed-up conjecture.

Meanwhile, the House Common Education Committee will soon hear Kern’s Religious Viewpoints Act. Kern’s bill will allow students to freely express their religious beliefs at school and in assignments without penalty. Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican, is known nationally for her inflammatory and disparaging remarks about gay people. State Rep. Mike Reynolds, another Oklahoma City Republican, is also listed as a sponsor of the measure.

(Update: Kern's bill passed through the committee and will now be considered by the full House, which is expected to approve it.)


Petty Politics

Image of Picasso painting

So it goes in Oklahoma these days . . .

Can Oklahoma’s anti-gay rights legislators get more petty and mean?

The Rev. Scott Jones, a gay pastor at Oklahoma City’s Cathedral of Hope, gave the opening prayer Wednesday in the House chamber. It was general prayer that spoke of a “Creator” and “Redeemer,” who fills “us with your Holy Spirit. “ There was not a controversial word in it.

(You can read the prayer here.)

But when it came time to make the prayer part of the House journal, a routine procedure, state Rep. John Wright, a Broken Arrow Republican, objected, and it was put to a vote. Showing what can obviously be described as mean-natured pettiness, 20 legislators, including notorious gay-basher state Rep. Sally Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican, voted against making the prayer a part of the official record. Overall, the vote was 64-20 to make the prayer a part of the journal, but the anti-gay message had been sent.

Before giving his prayer, Jones mentioned "my loving partner and fiance, Michael.” Jones’ church has “a ministry primarily to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people,” according to its Web site. Jones’ pre-prayer remarks are not a part of the official record, according to a news report.

Two days after giving the prayer, Jones and supporters held a press conference in which the legislators who voted against including the prayer in the record were asked to apologize.

Meanwhile, The Oklahoman actually covered the controversy as a news story and the blogosphere was filled with posts about the issue. As usual, Oklahoma’s image took another hit from radical politicos in this state. What else is new?

With the economy tanking here, the state legislature really can’t afford to paint the state as a backwards place of intolerance. This has an economic impact. How many groups do the right-wingers and hatemongers want to exclude from the state? Who’s next?

Campus Gun Bill Shot Down

It’s good news that a bill allowing guns on the state’s college campuses has been voted down by a Senate subcommittee, but the issue could still come up this legislative session.

State Sen. Randy Bass, a Lawton Democrat, proposed a measure that would allow law enforcement officials to carry concealed weapons on campuses, and it was unanimously defeated by the subcommittee. The action should make the issue dead for the next two years, according to legislative rules.

But state Rep. Jason Murphey, a Guthrie Republican, has another bill pending in the House, which could put even more guns on campuses.

As I wrote earlier, “Under proposed HB 1083, anyone who holds a concealed handgun permit and completes certification training given by the Council on Law Enforcement and Training (CLEET) would be allowed to carry concealed weapons at public colleges. The new bill appears to exempt faculty from the CLEET training requirement.”

What will happened to Murphey’s bill is anyone’s guess right now, but rest assured the legislator will continue try to get some sort of “Carry on Campus” measure passed this legislative session.

Will the Senate’s action make Murphey’s efforts futile? Does it mean the Senate will not approve any Murphey measure that conflicts with the bill that was defeated by the subcommittee? Let’s hope so.

These “Carry on Campus” measures, proposed across the country and supported by the National Rifle Association, simply create more potential for violence at universities and colleges. Gun advocate extremists are using the recent shooting tragedies at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois to push their agenda. Last year, virtually all of the state’s higher education officials opposed a similar measure and in all likelihood they still do.

The Oklahoma Rifle Association gave Murphey its 2008 Legislator of The Year award.

The Ten Commandments

The Oklahoma House General Government Committee has approved a plan by state Rep. Mike Ritze, A Broken Arrow Republican to put a Ten Commandments display at the State Capitol.

The full House will now vote on the measure. Ritze, an ordained Southern Baptist deacon, said his family would pay for the monument, which would be modeled after a Texas Ten Commandments monument.

According to a news report, Ritze said, “The Ten Commandments laid the foundation for modern law and their importance in the development of our legal system should be recognized."

That statement is simply is not true, according to legal experts.

According to The Legal Satyricon:

Lets go to the dishonesty first. Anyone who claims that the Ten Commandments are “where the state gets its laws” either hasn’t read the Ten Commandments or is lying. The commandments that prohibit murder, theft, and perjury may have parallels in American law, but three out of ten doesn’t get you there. Here is a good post debunking the myth that the Ten Commandments have anything at all to do with our laws.

The monument is a bad idea that only creates unnecessary religious conflict. Let’s hope legal groups and excluded religions step forward and challenge this obvious religious intrusion in government.


Will Bush Administration Face Real Investigations?

Image of George Bush and John McCain

The public wants the Bush administration investigated for its alleged use of torture against prisoners and wiretapping U.S citizens without court approval, according to a poll conducted by USA Today/Gallup Poll.

The poll shows two-thirds of Americans want some type of investigation, including one that could lead to criminal charges.

The Bush administration sanctioned torture, including waterboarding, during its administration, according to many legal experts, and this violates U.S. law. The administration also wiretapped unsuspecting U.S. citizens without first asking the court’s permission. This, too, violated the law at the time, according to some legal groups, and may have violated the constitutional right to privacy.

The public has the right to know about the specific acts of torture used on individual prisoners, who were arrested after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists’ attacks. Those people, who actually tortured prisoners, and those who ordered the torture, including high-ranking Bush officials, should face a public inquiry that could lead to criminal charges.

The Bush administration admitted to ordering wiretaps on U.S. citizens without required court approval. In 2007, Congress legalized warrantless wiretapping, but questions remain. Who exactly was wiretapped? What information was collected? Were people wiretapped for political reasons? Can people determine if they specifically were wiretapped by the government? There should full transparency on this issue for U.S. citizens who have not been charged with a crime or are under investigation for terrorist activity.

This is not an issue of lending legal help or aid to people who aim to hurt Americans. It’s about upholding American law and showing the world the country truly believes in human rights. It’s not about punishing Bush retroactively and the current Republican Party for political gain. It’s about ensuring that future presidential administrations don't abuse executive powers. The country’s failure to look into these issues would jeopardize our democracy.

President Barack Obama has consistently indicated that he would prefer to look forward rather than back as his new administration struggles with the economic crisis left to him by Bush and his Republicans backers. But Congress is moving forward. Democrats U.S. Rep. John Conyers and U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy have said they want to form investigative commissions to look into these controversial issues. These commissions should get to work as soon as possible.

I have called for investigations into the Bush administration for literally years now. Unfortunately, Democrats capitulated to Republicans after winning big in the 2006 elections and would not move forward on the issue. The 2008 election and this recent poll strongly suggest voters have soundly rejected the Bush/Republican policies that gave us an imperial presidency, destroyed our world stature and ruined our economy. Americans want and deserve investigations. We need to know what happened. If we don’t thoroughly and quickly look into the Bush mess, then we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.