Sally Kern’s continuing efforts to erode the separation of church and state and turn Oklahoma public schools into fundamentalist Christian enclaves won approval by the Oklahoma Senate this week.
Sate Rep. Kern (R-Oklahoma City), who has publicly compared gay people to terrorists, sponsored House Bill 2211, which prevents teachers from penalizing students for expressing religious views and opens the door for increasing religious conflict in our public schools. It allows students, for example, to organize religious events during school hours. Would students feel compelled to go to these events under peer pressure? The bill was passed by the House, and then held up in a Senate committee. Another bill, House Bill 2633, was amended to include Kern’s deceptively named the “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act,” and the bill passed the Senate this week.
The amendment was placed on HB 2633, other Kern-sponsored legislation dealing with school testing, by state Sen. James Williamson (R-Tulsa).
Kern, married to a Baptist minister, often pushes religious and ideological legislation and issues. She was recently recorded at a Republican function, for example, as she claimed gay people are a bigger threat than terrorists and claimed “the homosexual agenda is destroying this nation.” Here is the YouTube clip. Her remarks led to a national outcry, and she was condemned through the world for promoting intolerance.
Vic Hutchison, who leads Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE), said it is difficult to understand why the Senate voted unanimously for the bill.
“Although HB 2211, Sally Kern’s ‘Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act’ was ‘killed’ in the Senate Rules Committee, the Republicans have now resurrected the language in the Senate as an amendment to HB 2633 (another bill by Kern),” Hutchinson wrote in the organization’s online newsletter. “We will watch to see what happens to this bill as it now may go back to the House or is reconsidered during the next three days. Should it make it to a House floor vote it will pass and it would be up to the Governor to veto it, but the outcome at this point is not clear. The unanimous vote in the Senate is difficult to understand, given that many Democrats were firmly against the bill in earlier votes and discussions.”
Hutchison, a professor emeritus in Zoology at the University of Oklahoma, who adamantly opposes the bill, has said it could lead to lawsuits from those who hold minority religious positions or no religious positions at all, and it could also lead to back-door attempts to bring creationism or intelligent design arguments into science classrooms. The bill is modeled after legislation recently passed in Texas. I agree with Hutchison, and I have argued here and in the Oklahoma Gazette the bill’s language could be interpreted to mean students could refuse to do assignments or homework because of their religious views. The legislation is designed to legally sanction fundamentalist Christian ideology in our schools. What other religious ideas could be fully expressed in schools under the philosophy of intolerance promoted by Kern? Overall, the bill is simply not needed in Oklahoma schools, and it will make the state seem backwards.
What companies will want to relocate here in face of Kern’s gay-bashing remarks and the fact the children of their employees will have to go through a very real fundamentalist Christian indoctrination in public schools? What type of people will want to move here? What type of lawsuit havoc will ensue when this bill is made into law? This is extremely unnecessary legislation that sends out a terrible message about Oklahoma to the nation and world.
Hutchison and others who oppose the bill are hoping the Senate will reconsider the bill or that Gov. Brad Henry will veto it if it makes it to his desk.
Other groups who have opposed the bill, according to OESE, include the Oklahoma Academy of Science, Oklahoma Science Teachers Association, Oklahoma Mainstream Baptists, Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Oklahoma City Interfaith Alliance, and Tulsa Interfaith Alliance.
Unfortunately, one gets the sense at this point that Kern, despite the embarrassment she has caused the state, will get her way once again. What type of religious or ideological legislation lurks next year if Kern and legislators like her are reelected?
The late French philosopher Michel Foucault provides a larger frame to help understand the Sally Kern media frenzy, which began when an audio recording of the Republican legislator’s confused and archaic ideas about gay people began circulating on the Internet.
By now, everyone knows Kern, pictured right, a state Representative in Oklahoma City, was recorded at a Republican gathering in which she equated gay people with terrorists and essentially blamed a mythical homosexual agenda for destroying the nation. Her comments were met with protest and outrage by people in Oklahoma and across the world, and this is where Foucault ideas about sexuality are so important.
Foucault would surely argue the “reverse” discourse to Kern’s predictable, religious-laced comments represents the vital component of the sexual orientation “dialogue” that commenced soon after the recording was made public by Victory, a gay rights organization. Sally Kern’s speech, if given in 1950 or maybe even in 1980, would not have even registered. Yet the reverse discourse, as defined by Foucault, shows the deepening social and cultural transformation of our twenty-first century culture, which, despite Sally Kern and her petty speeches, is becoming exceedingly more tolerant of gay people.
In his work, The History of Sexuality, Foucault argues that official aspects of nineteenth-century culture categorized homosexuality in mostly negative terms, as “perversity,” but this new discourse also opened the way for homosexuality to “speak for itself.”
Foucault writes, “The appearance in nineteenth-century psychiatry, jurisprudence, and literature of a whole series of discourses on the species and subspecies of homosexuality, inversion, pederasty, and ‘psychic hermaphroditism’ made possible a strong advance of social controls into this area of "perversity"; but it also made possible the formation of a "reverse" discourse: homosexuality began to speak in its own behalf, to demand that its legitimacy or ‘naturality’ be acknowledged, often in the same vocabulary, using the same categories by which it was medically disqualified.”
Kern gave her speech equating gay people to terrorists to about 50 Republicans, according to media reports. She claims she did not know someone was recording her, and she has said she does not care. The legislator, who is married to a Baptist minister, also will not apologize for her comments, and she continues to insist her comments were somehow taken out of context. She has received support from fellow Republican legislators and conservative political groups. She appeared on a local television show to argue her points. A conservative group plans a rally today on her behalf.
But those who spoke out against Kern’s comments surely can sense the power behind their unified response. Local television stations covered the Kern protests. Progressive bloggers spoke out here and across the country in unison, and their blogs were filled with outraged comments. The Daily Oklahoman, the most conservative newspaper in the country, even called Kern’s comments “wrong” in an editorial. Later, the newspaper called Kern a “one-trick pony.” The Oklahoma Democratic Party announced a candidate, Ron Marlett, would run against Kern in the upcoming November elections. A local political group, Equal Rights Project, was formed in response to her comments.
Meanwhile, response on the national level was simply staggering. The initial audio recording was later turned into a video. It appeared on the Victory site and YouTube and was heard by more than a million people. (Compare this to the 50 people or so at the gathering where Kern spoke.) On her show one day, television star and comedian Ellen Degeneres actually called Kern’s legislative office trying to speak to her. Web sites across the country relentlessly pounced on Kern’s comments.
The signs are everywhere that tolerance for gay people is increasing in this country. A growing number of television shows and movies routinely contain sympathetic depictions of gay people. Many companies now offer insurance benefits to same sex partners of their employees. Increasingly, gay couples adopt children. Massachusetts recognized same sex marriages in 2004, and several states have civil union laws that offer marriage rights and responsibilities to gay couples. Local leaders, such as state Rep. Al McAffrey and Corporation Commissioner Jim Roth, break stereotypes and help forge a new tolerant reality.
Sally Kern’s petty comments cannot stop this cultural and social transformation.
Here's the link to the above video.