The effort to remove a measure from the Oklahoma Constitution ensuring the basic separation of church and state is getting based on a specious, disingenuous and reductionist argument.
The full story behind the so-called “Blaine Amendment,” or Article 2, Section 5, in the Oklahoma Constitution, is one that very much supports the argument that former President and Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant wanted a public school system that was free from religious dogma and available to all children. That remains a noble and just cause. States, including Oklahoma, later used Grant’s initial philosophy and words to create constitutions that clearly separated church and state in much broader terms.
Any argument that narrows those parameters to speculate the measure was just primarily based on an anti-Catholic bias, or thus based on prejudice, simply leaves out so much it becomes useless as a historical reference.
Here’s the situation: The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently ordered a Ten Commandments monument removed from the state Capitol grounds, basing their decision on Article 2, Section 5, of the state constitution, which reads:
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.
The Oklahoma Senate, in an apparent response to an obvious and logical judicial decision, has now passed Senate Joint Resolution 72 in a 39-5 vote that would give voters an opportunity to remove the language from the constitution in the upcoming election, and thus, it’s presumed at the very least, allow Ten Commandments and other religious monuments on government property. The resolution was sponsored by state Sen. Rob Standridge, a Norman Republican, who said the item in the constitution “represented an effort to suppress Catholic education . . .”
In the news release on the vote, Standridge also called the language the “Blaine amendment.” James Blaine was a post-civil war American Congressman and politician from Maine. He tried to get Congress in 1875 to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution containing similar language to what is now contained in the Oklahoma Constitution. That effort failed, but those who supported it managed to get the language embedded in most state constitutions. Thus, the term “Blaine Amendment,” or “The Blaines.”
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