This is a blog of populist and liberal information and ideas, advancing the cause of truth and justice while fighting the ugly tyranny of right-wing oppression in Oklahoma and its surrounding environs.

Religious Intrusion

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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.

Another Anti-Science Bill

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The Oklahoma House could consider a bill today that if signed into law would undermine science education in the state’s classrooms, especially the teaching of evolution theory.

House Bill 1674, sponsored by Gus Blackwell, a Laverne Republican, is on the calendar for a House floor vote. Amendments filed with the bill by Blackwell would make it similar to Senate Bill 1765, a bill called the Oklahoma Science Education Act, which allows students to “respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues” in science classrooms.

Both Blackwell and state Sen. Josh Brecheen, a Coalgate Republican, who sponsors SB 1765, have submitted previous legislation that defined some of the so-called “controversial issues” as biological evolution and global warming. Those bills eventually died in the legislature. I recently wrote about Brecheen’s bill here.

The bills’ and related bills’ voting history through the years is convoluted, but none of them have made it into law. The gambit this session among those pushing or supporting this type of legislation seems to be to present generic language that might be palatable to more legislators, especially in the Senate.

The intent of the bills, however, remains the same: Cast doubt on basic longtime scientific principles and research and insert religious ideas in classroom.

There is no real scientific controversy over evolution and global warming. There might be religious and political disagreement about these issues among some groups, such as right-wing, fundamentalist Christians and oil companies, but it’s not rooted in science.

Any version of these bills signed into law would damage the state’s education reputation and harm students. It’s not a stretch to say such a law would make Oklahoma’s public school students less prepared for college.

One of Blackwell’s amendments, for example, establishes that “. . . no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories.”

Allowing students to simply opt-out or criticize important course material with no consequences because of religious beliefs is terribly unwise in a state with a low college graduation rate.

Both the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE) are strongly opposed to these bills.

The Rich Reward

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An analysis of Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposed income tax cut proposal shows that Oklahoma’s wealthiest households will benefit the most while 41 percent of its residents will get no benefit at all.

The overall average tax cut would be a paltry $29 while those in the top 1 percent in income would receive an average of $2,009.

The analysis, prepared by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) and distributed by the Oklahoma Policy Institute, clearly shows Fallin’s proposal is primarily designed to reduce the tax burden for the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class.

In her State of the State speech earlier this month, Fallin proposed cutting the top income tax rate from 5.25 to 5 percent despite the fact that Oklahoma faces a $170 million budget shortfall and has cut per pupil spending on a percentage basis more than any other state in the nation since 2008.

The regressive tax cut would mean a $135 million annual loss in revenue, according to OK Policy, while 41 percent of Oklahomans wouldn’t get a break at all because they aren’t taxed at the top income rate.

The arguments justifying the proposed cut are based on fallacious claims that it would drive economic development or that Oklahoma needs to be competitive with neighboring states with lower tax rates. There is no actual empirical evidence or specific studies related to Oklahoma that show this is actually true. Thus, it’s not difficult to view the proposed cut in pure class terms. The rich will benefit greatly; the poor will not benefit at all. The middle class gets a token cut.

The Oklahoman editorial board tried to justify the proposed tax cut in a larger perspective, but its right-wing blinders failed to produce a valid argument. This is from a recent editorial supporting the cut:

It’s also true that the more money you earn, the more money you save when the tax rate is cut. That’s just basic math. This doesn’t mean the rich are getting a bigger tax cut than the middle class. The rate reduction would be the same for both. Instead, it means the rich have more money than the middle class and pay more in taxes, which isn’t breaking news. They will pay more in taxes regardless of the rate.

This is a tired argument. Yes, the rich pay more in taxes because they are rich. Everyone gets that. Why repeat the obvious? It’s like saying, “The rich are rich. They have all the money.” To use italics just like The Oklahoman editorial, We know that. The point is the flat rate reduction doesn’t benefit thousands upon thousands of Oklahomans at all and only gives a small cut to many other Oklahomans. Why not RAISE the tax rate on the top 1 percent and lower the rate for others? Obviously, Fallin and The Oklahoman would scoff at this progressive idea, but at least it gives us something to debate rather than just listening to wishful thinking about economic development and reading another ad nauseam lecture about the intrinsic wonderfulness of rich people.

Along with her proposed tax cut, Fallin wants steep budget cuts to higher education and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. This will ensure the state will continue to have a low college graduation rate and that the poor will continue to have limited medical care options.

Dumb? Unhealthy? For decades, these have been the sweeping and one might argue unfair stereotypes of Oklahomans from some people who live in other sections of the country and world. Fallin’s proposed tax cut wouldn’t change that at all.

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