A bill inhibiting embryonic stem cell research in the state and opposed by the Oklahoma State Medical Association has overwhelmingly passed the Oklahoma House.
On Tuesday, the House voted 73-14 to approve House Bill 2070, dubbed the Protection of Human Life Act of 2013.
Sponsored by Dan Fisher, an El Reno Republican, the bill would specifically ban “nontherapeutic research that destroys a human embryo or subjects a human embryo to substantial risk of injury or death” or “use for research purposes cells or tissues” obtained from such an embryo.
The main problem with the bill is that it could threaten medical stem cell research in the state while setting an anti-science precedent. While the bill specifically exempts in vitro procedures it also represents yet another gambit among the anti-abortion crowd to minutely focus attention on women’s reproductive systems and conception.
For example, the bill defines a human embryo for the purposes of the bill as “including the single celled stage, that is not located in the body of a female . . .” This language seems unclear. Is that intentional? Does this definition only mean an egg removed from a woman in a medical procedure? Could it have other ramifications?
I’m not trying to ascribe some broader intention here, but parse this definition:
Human embryo means a living organism of the species Homo sapiens at the earliest stages of development, including the single celled stage, that is not located in the body of a female . . .
The Oklahoma State Medical Association, according to a news report, opposes the bill because of the “troubling precedent for future research.” Here are some recent advances in embryonic stem cell research.
This is a bad bill that no matter what its larger implications in terms of defining a human embryo could inhibit bio-medical research here and once again make the statement that a majority of state residents reject scientific research. That's not good for the state.
The Oklahoman published an editorial Sunday that smugly purports to apply superior logic to the same-sex marriage issue, but it’s based on a false comparison, relies on a sweeping generalization and really has no valid point.
Is the newspaper opposed to same-sex marriage or not? The answer to that question doesn’t seem to be the point of the commentary, but its claims really beg the question.
The editorial’s argument is that gun right advocates have a better legal claim for their beliefs because of the clear language of the Second Amendment while same-sex marriage advocates have a weaker claim for their beliefs because the Fifth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment don’t specifically mention marriage.
Consequently, the editorial states, “ . . . some would have Americans believe that Second Amendment rights are severely limited and subject to onerous regulation, while gay marriage is an unassailable constitutional right that can’t be restricted in any capacity.”
Who is this “some” that “would have Americans believe”? The editorial doesn’t even use its “usual suspects” or “vested interests” tropes. More specifically, why does this even matter in terms of either issue?
There are two points to make. One, guns and same-sex marriage are not related issues even in the larger and presumably weird brain universe of an editorial writer for The Oklahoman. No one is denying anyone the right to “keep and bear arms.” We might debate gun regulations, as the editorial points out, but the “some” who “would have Americans believe” is simply a made-up bogeyman used to fuel fear and anger among right-wing extremists.
Second, a citizen’s basic civil and legal right to enter into a government-sanctioned marriage is far more important than specific rulings related to gun control. “Some” may argue against this, but note that I’m not arguing the Second Amendment doesn’t allow people the right to have guns. I’m simply saying a common sense rule that, for example, prohibits a student from carrying a loaded machine gun into a kindergarten classroom for show and tell doesn’t carry the same gravitas as a law that denies people equal rights.
But to The Oklahoman it all comes down to this bit of nonsense:
Those who support gay marriage but oppose gun rights, in comparison, must argue a snippet of two constitutional amendments generates specific meaning regarding marriage regulation, but that explicit Second Amendment language provides a far lower level of constitutional protection.
Again, what is the point? Is it that people who support same-sex marriage should go get some guns and wave them around in public at rallies so they can be consistent in their arguments? What is the newspaper’s position on same-sex marriage, which has been ruled legal here by a federal judge, a ruling that is now stayed while it’s under appeal? That’s the most important issue. Why is the newspaper avoiding it?
Given the ultra-conservative editorial views of The Oklahoman, it’s not difficult to presume it’s against same-sex marriage, but its failure to address the issue in a straightforward manner shows the weakness inherent in any argument it might make against equality.
I’m in favor of same-sex marriage and equality for everyone. I’m not trying to hide that with rhetorical subterfuge or tricky arguments designed to fuel paranoia. At the very least, The Oklahoman should allow consistent dissenting views to its tortuous right-wing laments, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon.
An unneeded and overwrought bill allowing students to freely express religious ideas in Oklahoma’s public schools couldn’t even get one opposing vote this week.
On Tuesday, the Oklahoma House voted 88-0 to pass House Bill 2422 or the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act, which codifies and encourages religious intrusion in government public schools. On a larger level, the bill clearly violates the Oklahoma Constitution and the basic federal tenet of church and state separation. On a pragmatic level, it opens our schools to deep religious conflict among students and teachers that distracts from the basic educational mission.
Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution states:
No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.
How can anyone possibly reconcile that clear statement with the language below taken from HB 2422?
A school district shall treat the voluntary expression of a student of a religious viewpoint, if any, on an otherwise permissible subject in the same manner the district treats the voluntary expression by a student of a secular or other viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject and may not discriminate against the student based on a religious viewpoint . . .
The “religious viewpoint” (keep in mind this could be from any religion) could obviously be simple proselytizing on and/or using government-owned property sanctioned by government-paid authorities. A student might speak at a graduation ceremony, for example, about how her belief in Jesus Christ helped her earn high grades and urge others, directly or through simple implication, to adopt her views.
This obviously would be in violation of the state constitution’s prohibition against using state money and property, “directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion . . .” It’s an obvious lawsuit waiting to happen.
But it’s the pragmatics of the bill that should concern everyone, especially parents of school-aged children, even more. The bill essentially sanctions the dissemination of religious ideas at student assemblies and other gatherings, allows for the expression of religious ideas in assignments and homework and allows for student religious clubs and events. School districts, under the bill, “shall adopt a policy” that ensures all this happens.
Imagine the chaos that would ensue if students from diverse religions—Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism—all made sure their views were represented not only at assemblies but also in the classrooms. What about Wicca expressions and other spiritual expressions? What about American Indian spiritual expressions? They would certainly have to be allowed as well.
What if students wanted to express the views of Satanism? We’ve seen how that issue has already emerged with the unconstitutional Ten Commandments Monument now adorning the state Capitol grounds.
What should a teacher do if a student submitted a paper or an assignment that was simply a religious screed disavowing basic scientific principles? I guess it would depend on their own religious views and/or the religious views of her administrators, but why even put a teacher in this position?
I don’t think it’s a stretch to argue that the intent of this bill is to encourage the use of right-wing, fundamentalist Christian dogma as a replacement for intellectual discovery and critical inquiry in our public schools. Christianity is the dominant religion in this state, and it’s fair to say that right-wing religious folks, including many extremists, are in control of state government right now.
Let’s be clear: There’s no discrimination against Christianity in Oklahoma; there is, however, Christian-based discrimination against other religions and basic intellectualism and free-thinking.
Again, it’s depressing that the bill didn’t receive one negative vote. Two high profile Democrats, gubernatorial candidate state Rep. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs and state Rep. Emily Virgin of Norman were “excused” from the vote for whatever reasons.