Fight Against Religious Intrusion Continues

Image of state capitol and church

(Update: Apparently the language of House Bill 1551 has made its way in the form of an amendment to a bill dealing with textbooks. The floor amendment to House Bill 2341 was made by state Sen. Steve Russell, an Oklahoma City Republican. The Senate could vote on the bill as early as today.)

A bill designed to bring creationist ideas into the state’s public science classrooms failed to get a committee hearing Monday.

House Bill 1551, originally sponsored by controversial state Rep. Sally Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican, would have required schools to assist teachers in presenting information about what it deems scientific controversies, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.

Essentially, the bill would have allowed religious precepts under the guise of faux science as a challenge to evolution and undoubtedly allowed misinformation about global warming in science classrooms. Among other things, it would have made Oklahoma students less prepared for college.

I wrote previously about the bill and Kern here and here.

The Oklahoma House passed the measure, although more than 30 members didn’t even vote on it. It was then sent to the Senate Education Committee, where it didn’t receive a hearing on Monday. Since the committee will not meet again this year, the bill is effectively dead, according to Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE), which led the fight against the bill.

One OESE member, Victor Hutchison, George Lynn Cross Research Professor Emeritus in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma, worked especially hard to organize and present opposition to the measure.

But as Hutchison noted in an email message to those who helped him oppose the measure, “The creationists are not likely to stop.” He also noted that although similar measures have been presented since 1999, not one has made it into law.

Hutchison wrote, . . . “we must be prepared to continue the opposition in future years.”

Religious intrusion into government and schools—from bills attacking the theory of evolution to draconian anti-abortion measures—has become a major agenda of right-wing extremists in this country, and there’s no sign that it will end anytime soon.

As I’ve written in the past, a stopping point for fundamentalists may come when their beliefs and documents, such as the Bible or, say, the Book of Mormon, are carefully vetted and scrutinized. As Christian fundamentalists continue to work disingenuously and incrementally to turn the nation into a theocracy, their religion and worldview should become a major interest for everyone.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for example, was challenged recently at a rally by someone who questioned whether he believed in racist language contained in the Book of Mormon. Romney essentially avoided a direct answer, but later in the rally he did talk about serving as a Mormon pastor for 10 years.

Obviously, a former pastor running for president, who makes his religion a major part of his campaign, deserves to have his beliefs vetted and scrutinized. In fact, all the presidential candidates, including Barack Obama, should be asked hard questions about their religious beliefs given the current political landscape throughout the country. Do they believe in literal interpretations of the Bible’s Old Testament, for example, which condones slavery and female oppression?

As long as right-wing fundamentalists insist on theocracy, no political candidate should be allowed privacy when it comes to religious views.

Given the fundamentalists' push to inscribe their beliefs as science or as government policy, one has to wonder about the point of “faith” or the point of metaphorical readings of the Bible. Ultimately, the fundamentalists damage the credibility and viability of Christianity. Once that becomes clear to more moderate religious folks over the long term, there will be a correction. But, for now, the fight against religious zealotry continues in places like Oklahoma.