The Death of Academic Freedom?

Image of Sally Kern

Controversial lawmaker state Rep. Sally Kern is pushing a bill again this legislative session that would allow creationist ideas, such as the so-called intelligent design theory, into the state’s science classrooms.

House Bill 1551, which I’ve written about before, has passed the Common Education Committee on a 9 to 7 vote and could be heard by the full House soon. It’s a bad bill that is nothing more than religious intrusion into education, and, if passed, will almost certainly lead to an expensive lawsuit. The bill would require state educational authorities to dumb down its public school students, making them less prepared for college or work training.

Kern, pictured right, an Oklahoma City Republican, is nationally known for her comments in recent years disparaging gay people, African Americans and women. She’s the wife of a local Baptist minister, and often blends Christian fundamentalism with her office. Note her “Proclamation for Morality.” This bill is just another part of her religious crusade.

Kern has generated a tremendous amount of bad publicity for Oklahoma, and HB 1551 is just another example of a flagrant religious gesture that will be mocked and ridiculed inside and outside the state.

Let’s take a close look at the bill, which is a piece of disingenuous subterfuge. It’s called the “Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act,” which is just the opposite of what it represents. A title more representative of what the bill does would be “The Death of Academic Freedom Act” because it would replace critical inquiry with religious precepts.

The bill notes that the legislature finds “that the teaching of some scientific concepts including but not limited to premises in the areas of biology, chemistry, meteorology, bioethics and physics can cause controversy.” It mentions these areas, in particular: biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.

The phrase “can cause controversy” is strikingly nebulous. There’s no scientific controversy over these topics, only religious or political controversy, especially with the theory of evolution. In addition, “can cause controversy” could apply to just about anything in a school’s curriculum, including interpretations of history or political systems. How can we possibly define “can cause controversy”? Note the modifying “can.” It “can” but then again it might not.

The bill notes that “some teachers may be unsure” about how to present information on “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” Again, note the qualifying “may.” Are teachers “unsure” or not? So they “MAY be unsure” about something that “CAN cause controversy.”

Even though the bill qualifies the reason for its intent, it then seemingly gets more declarative:

Educational authorities in this state shall also endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies.

What controversies? What are the “effective ways” to help teachers with these “can cause” controversies? It’s just another blanket statement that could be interpreted in a myriad number of ways.

The bill also protects students who may feel compelled, for whatever reason, to reject the scientific method:

Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but 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.

But how exactly would a student be penalized in the first place?

The bill’s language and intent is vague because it’s undoubtedly a disingenuous attempt to bring religious ideas, such as intelligent design, into the science classroom. Intelligent design, which has been invalidated as science by a federal court, argues that the natural world is so complicated only a “designer” (i.e., wink, wink, a god) could be responsible for it. Intelligent design is just creationism dressed up in faux scientific jargon. It is NOT a scientific counter to the theory of evolution.

I’ve given my reasons against HB 1551 in a previous post. To summarize, there’s no scientific controversy over the topics the bill addresses, teachers will feel forced to present religious concepts in science classroom as “controversies,” students will waste valuable class time on issues better addressed at a church, and the state’s image will suffer. The bill would also make it more difficult for the state to produce and attract physicians and medical researchers. This is in a state with poor national medical rankings and a low college graduation rate.

The bill is similar to one passed recently in Louisiana. That bill resulted in a science organization cancelling its convention in New Orleans and a petition signed by 75 Nobel Laureates calling for its repeal. The city of New Orleans has voted in favor of repealing the law, and a state senator has filed a bill to repeal it as well.

Do we really need this type of negative publicity and energy in Oklahoma?

Here are the organizations that have already lined up to oppose the bill: Oklahoma Academy of Science, Oklahoma Science Teachers Association, Oklahomans for Excellence in Science education, Oklahoma Mainstream Baptists, OKC and Tulsa Interfaith Alliances and most major national science organizations, which includes the largest scientific organization in the world, the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Here is the contact email information for the House Republican leadership:

State Rep. Kris Steele, Speaker of the House,
State Rep. Jeffrey Hickman, Speaker Pro Tem,
State Rep. Dale dewitt, Majority Floor Leader,
State Rep. Harold Wright, Deputy Floor Leader,
State Rep. Welson Watson, Majority Caucus Chair,

This is a bad bill that will do irreparable harm to Oklahoma. A similar bill, SB 1742, sponsored by state Sen. Josh Brecheen, is now dormant. I wrote about that bill here.

Sally’s Selective Morality

Image of Sally Kern

The idea that state Rep. Sally Kern should be calling for anyone’s resignation from political office except her own is about as ludicrous as it gets and a case of extremely selective morality.

But, then, this is a woman who once equated homosexuality with terrorism and argued people of color only want a free ride from the government. Her bizarre logic has long been seen as kooky throughout the world as has her freakish moral system, which appears to be anchored on hate and anger.

Kern, a Republican, called for U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s resignation—he has since resigned but hardly because of Kern’s remarks--as she promoted her book, The Stoning of Sally Kern: The Liberal Attack on Christian Conservatism and Why We Must Take a Stand. Apparently, the book is a “poor, poor pitiful me” story criticizing those awful people who dared to call her out on her hatred, which is apparently fueled by her fundamentalist religious beliefs. Here’s an insightful Oklahoma Gazette article about the book.

Weiner, a Democrat, recently resigned after what some people saw as inappropriate social messaging between him and a number of young women. His exploits created a media hurricane that eventually destroyed his political career. But, at this point, no one claims he broke any laws or even cheated physically on his wife.

As far as I know, Kern remained publicly quiet about the escapades of members of her own political party, which include former U.S Sen. John Ensign, who had an affair with one of his staffers, former U.S. Rep. Chris Lee, who resigned after contacting someone on Craigslist with a photograph showing him shirtless, U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, who was arrested for suspicion of lewd conduct in an airport bathroom and former U.S Rep. Mark Foley, who resigned after he was accused of sending inappropriate text messages to male Congressional pages. Where was Sally’s moral outrage then?

But what does it matter anyway when we can read about Kern’s efforts to sort of backtrack on her anti-gay comments. This is how she was quoted recently in

I didn't actually call homosexuals terrorists, I just said homosexuality in my opinion was worse than terrorism. The homosexual agenda is destroying the moral fiber of our nation.

According to ABC News, this is what Kern said in a 2008 speech that become infamous for its hatred and bizarre, unsubstantiated logic:

During the speech, Kern said that "the homosexual agenda is just destroying this nation" and that homosexuality poses a bigger threat to the United States than terrorism. "According to God's word, that is not the right kind of lifestyle," she said.

"Studies show no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted more than a few decades," Kern, a former teacher who sits on the education committee, added.

What’s the difference between what she said then and what she said now? What is she trying to clear up? The nuance between “homosexuals are terrorists” and “homosexuality in my opinion was worse than terrorism”?

But let’s move on. Here’s what Kern said on the Oklahoma House floor this past session, remarks for which she was eventually reprimanded:

We have a high percentage of blacks in prison, and that’s tragic, but are they in prison just because they are black or because they don’t want to study as hard in school? I’ve taught school, and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t study hard because they said the government would take care of them.

In the same set of remarks, she also said women didn’t want to work as hard as men.

No book or set of religious beliefs can qualify Kern’s archaic worldviews or her selective morality. She does immense damage to the state’s national image, and she will continue to do so.

Oklahoman Bashes Democrats In Kern Controversy

Image of Picasso work

The Oklahoman has finally published an editorial criticizing Republican state Rep. Sally Kern’s recent racist and sexist remarks, but it’s really an attack on Democrats and the candidate who ran against the controversial Oklahoma City legislator in last November’s general election.

The editorial (“Reaction to House member a case of selective outrage,” May 4, 2011) spends its first five paragraphs citing false analogies primarily about national Democrats, who supposedly said things that can be compared to Kern’s toxic statements that, essentially, African Americans are lazy and want a government handout and that women don’t want to work as hard as men.

But there’s simply no comparison. Let’s look at the two local “comparisons” the newspaper uses. The editorial mentions that in 2008 two members of former Gov. Brad Henry’s Advisory Council on Latin American and Hispanic Affairs made Nazi and Hitler references in relation to the burgeoning anti-illegal immigration movement here. Were the comments extreme? Perhaps so, but they didn’t attack minorities and women with archaic and stereotypical racist and sexist views. How in the world are Kern’s remarks and the Nazi/Hitler remarks—used rhetorically to try to protect a marginalized group of people—the same?

The national analogies are just as bad. Here’s a couple:

Former Democratic U.S. Sen. John Edwards called conservative pundit Ann Coulter a “she-devil.” Former President Bill Clinton, campaigning for his wife during the 2008 presidential race, said, “A few years ago, this guy (Barack Obama) would have been getting us coffee.”

I guess we should presume the ultra-conservative newspaper is accusing Edwards of sexism and Clinton of racism, but Coulter is a pundit with a track record of hate speech of her own and the alleged Clinton remarks were supposedly made in private in a telephone call, according to a book. Are Clinton’s supposed remarks even substantiated and what do they really mean?

(I want to parse this false Clinton analogy for the sake of students who come to college after learning how to argue from the newspaper’s illogical editorial page through the conservative, trickle-down process here. A real analogy would be if Kern had said something similar to Clinton’s remarks about an Oklahoma Republican African-American politician in a private, non-recorded telephone or face-to-face conversation with a prominent local political leader. Then the comments surfaced in some form much later, and she wouldn’t respond.)

Neither Edwards’ nor Clinton’s comments can begin to compare to Kern’s extended articulation of her racist and archaic worldview. Here’s how Kern’s comments, made on the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, were reported:

"We have a high percentage of blacks in prison, and that's tragic, but are they in prison just because they are black or because they don't want to study as hard in school? I've taught school, and I saw a lot of people of color who didn't study hard because they said the government would take care of them."

" . . . women usually don't want to work as hard as a man... women tend to think a little bit more about their family, wanting to be at home more time, wanting to have a little more leisure time."

As I argued before, this is a learned view, not a rhetorical stumble or, as the editorial describes it, an “off-the-cuff” comment. This is an articulation of a belief system. Kern has apologized for her remarks, but not for holding such a worldview.

After criticizing Democrats, the editorial finally makes its move, arguing “ Kern should not have said what she said . . .,” but it then immediately makes the point that the fuss is really about Kern’s “political leanings,” as if her racist and sexist worldviews exist outside of her agenda. She was, after all, arguing in favor of a bill that could ultimately end affirmative action here.

The editorial concedes Kern’s “ad-libbing” has been a problem “for the state and for her House GOP colleagues,” but then it argues this:

The best way to get her out of the House sooner is for Democrats to put a serious candidate up against her.

Note how the word “serious” is italicized. What does that mean? The last Democratic candidate to face Kern was Brittany Novotny, an articulate, energetic local attorney. Novotony is also transgendered. Is that the reason why the newspaper doesn’t think she was a “serious” contender for the position? What else could it be? The newspaper should explain. During the campaign, Novotny faced bigoted attacks from Kern’s supporters. One group called Novotny a “confused it.”

So let’s get this straight: In its supposed criticism of Kern, the editorial primarily attacks Democrats and then commits its own act of bigotry. How can anyone run successfully against Kern when the newspaper brushes aside her racism and sexism as “off-the-cuff,” relentlessly criticizes the party that it argues should field a serious candidate against her and then underhandedly demeans the transgendered community?

(Update: Read this post about the problems facing a transgendered professor at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.)

Syndicate content