State Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) is gearing up her crusade to dictate Oklahoma public school teachers turn their classrooms into narrow minded bastions of Christian extremism and fanaticism.
Kern, along with another legislator, state Rep. Mike Reynolds (R-Oklahoma City), are introducing similar bills, both named the Religious Viewpoints Discrimination Act, according to a media report. The bills will be considered in this upcoming legislative session.
I have written about Reynolds’ bill before. Kern’s bill is apparently another back door way to try to stop the teaching of evolution and the scientific method in our state schools. Essentially, students would be allowed to argue—without any penalty—against established knowledge in all fields using fundamentalist religious arguments.
For example, students might use pseudo science, such as intelligent design, an offshoot of creationism, to undermine basic scientific facts in a classroom. Teachers could be forced to sit idly by as religious fanatics hector their fellow students about evolution and other topics that do not fit into the small intellectual framework of the Christian fundamentalists.
Kern, whose husband is a pastor, and Reynolds say their bills are needed to ensure religious students are not discriminated against, but the real intent is to expand the right-wing Christian fundamentalist agenda in public schools here. These are dangerous bills that will lower the bar for Oklahoma students and prevent the basic dissemination of scientific knowledge. The insidious, disingenuous nature of these bills cannot be overstated.
According to an Associated Press story in The Daily Oklahoma, Kern, a former teacher, said, "There's a great deal of confusion out there. Any time a student says something about God or Jesus, they're immediately censored."
I challenge the veracity of this statement. School teachers, principals and superintendents in the state should challenge this statement as well. Students have never been nor will they ever be consistently “immediately censored” for talking about religion in Oklahoma classrooms. Teachers in Oklahoma do not attempt to stop their students from holding or expressing religious beliefs. This is a non issue.
Sally Show Begins
State Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) will try to restrict reproductive rights even further for Oklahoma women this coming legislative session.
House Bill 1004, filed by Kern, would require doctors who perform abortions to have clinical privileges at a hospital within 30 miles where the procedure was performed. This is yet another measure to restrict abortion and other reproductive services.
As reported earlier by The Practical Progressive, this legislation would prevent out-of-state doctors, who are licensed in Oklahoma, from performing the procedures. This has been a common practice in some states.
Last legislative session, the state passed laws restricting abortion in the state. The restrictions included the requirement minors get parental consent before they have an abortion and state funding of anti-choice information centers. The legislature also passed laws requiring physicians tell women the fetus feels pain, which is not proven scientifically. A new law also requires doctors to offer women a sonogram view of the fetus before an abortion.
There was also a political effort last year to restrict access to Plan B, the emergency contraceptive for women. Plan B has been approved for over-the-counter sales by the Federal Drug Administration.
State legislators of both major political parties will continue to impose their religious views on Oklahoma women by restricting their access to reproductive services until people speak up. This issue marginalizes women in our overall culture, and especially in conservative Oklahoma, and denies women freedom to make decisions about their own bodies.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, an organization that tracks reproductive rights: “In 2000, 96% of Oklahoma counties had no abortion provider. 56% of Oklahoma women lived in these counties. In the South census region, where Oklahoma is located, 32% of women having abortions traveled at least 50 miles, and 10% traveled more than 100 miles.”
No rational person favors the use of abortion for standard birth control, but religious ideologues also want to restrict access to basic birth control as well. Sex education and easy access to birth control will bring down the unwanted-pregnancy rate, but the ideologues—primarily Christian extremists—have a larger agenda.
It’s important to note this will probably not be the only measure this upcoming session trying to restrict reproductive rights in Oklahoma. Kern represents an area in northwest Oklahoma City and Bethany. She and other Christian extremists may well introduce more legislation denying women the ability to control what happens to their bodies.
Abortion is obviously a controversial issue for some Christians, but no one is forced to have an abortion in this country. If you’re against abortion, don’t have one. This is about state Christian fundamentalists demanding everyone view the world through their narrow-minded religious filter. This is about religious intrusion in government. This is about politically moderate and liberal Christians (is “liberal Christian” an oxymoron these days?) allowing right-wing Christian extremists to hijack their religion on a couple of cultural wedge issues like abortion and gay rights.
Do a majority of Oklahoma woman want to give up their reproductive rights. No. But many women are afraid to speak up in a state that marginalizes anyone who dissents from the right-wing, religious agenda.
I wrote this on March 4, 2006 on Okie Funk:
"Not one Oklahoma politician has come out forcefully and presented counter legislation that would stop the religious freaks from embarrassing our state, damaging our economy by branding us with the 'ignorant hick' logo, and turning our schools into quasi-churches.
"Not one Oklahoma politician in this state has stepped up and said 'enough is enough,' championing the cause of intellectualism and rationalism and logic and medical science, the hallmarks of modernity and enlightenment.
"Not one Oklahoma politician has said figuratively and loudly to our college graduates now leaving the state in droves that the fight for intellectual freedom can be waged even in one of the reddest of red states."
A bill (SB 24) filed by state Sen. Patrick Anderson (R-Enid) would limit the growth of state spending to the previous year’s spending plus five percent.
Sounds like a TABOR hybrid, and you can expect similar measures this coming session.
TABOR, or the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, is the idea that the growth of state spending should be limited to the previous year’s spending plus an increase based on a formula tied to population growth and the inflation rate. An initiative petition drive to place the issue as a constitutional amendment on the ballot here was declared invalid by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Oklahoma, which lags far behind in education funding in the country, simply can’t allow itself to be tied to budget measures that restrict it from taking care of its structural problems. For example, the state has had one of the lowest per student spending rates in the nation for years. It often has the lowest or near the lowest teacher salaries in the nation as well.
It’s virtually impossible to increase taxes without a vote of the people in Oklahoma, and the legislature has been reducing taxes lately, not raising them. If the state has extra money to wisely and prudently invest in improving the state, then it should do so. This is just common sense, not ideology.
Progressives Were Right About TABOR
An Oklahoma Supreme Court report severely criticizing an outside group for its tactics in gathering signatures for the failed TABOR petition several months ago brings up the question again of Oklahoma’s ideologically conservative and recalcitrant leadership.
As many of us warned months ago, the group, National Voter Outreach, probably violated rules governing initiative drives by employing out-of-state signature gatherers. But conservative mouthpiece The Daily Oklahoman told us on its editorial page to withhold our criticisms and let the issue come to a vote of the people. The court’s report said the group employed 60 out-of-state workers. You must be an Oklahoma resident to collect signatures for a state initiative petition drive.
Progressives also warned how the petition workers often distorted the TABOR “story” or lied or withheld information about the impact of the measure in Colorado when they approached people. In essence, paid operatives from outside Oklahoma came into the state and tried to swindle voters. To its credit, the court stopped them.
TABOR, or the so-called Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, is the idea that states need a constitutional amendment to reduce spending. TABOR would require that the growth of state spending become tied to a formula related solely to population growth and the inflation rate.
A state that passed a TABOR amendment, Colorado, recently voted to rescind it because it had decimated the quality of life in the state through cuts in education, health care, and road maintenance.
The report issued this week was scathing in is criticisms of NVO, according to news reports.
Yet the larger question remains: Why did it take so long for the power structure to oppose TABOR? Business bigwigs in the state—executives from Kerr McGee, Devon, and Chesapeake, for example—eventually filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of the petition. The Oklahoman, in a rare break with extreme GOP ideology, then began editorializing against the petition.
The power structure in this state, if Oklahoma is to thrive, needs to become more open-minded to ideas and positions from progressives. We were exactly right about TABOR, but don’t count on the right-wingers to admit their mistakes or their own complicity in the issue. Look at the Iraq debacle.
Another question looms about what whether the upcoming legislature will pass a TABOR-like bill cutting funding to education and not allowing the state to catch up from its position as a state possessing one of the lowest per student funding rates in the nation. The House has a majority of Republicans, and the Senate is equally divided between the two major parties.
Could a TABOR bill make it through?
Senate Democrats Must Save State
Oklahoma Senate leaders have decided to share power now that the legislative body is divided equally between Democrats and Republicans. As lieutenant governor, Jari Askins, a Democrat, will cast any tie breaking votes if needed.
The question for most progressives is what will happen to the kooky, religious-driven legislation the House passes and sends to the Senate. State Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) is still in the House, for example, and she or other religious ideologues may well bring up the intelligent design issue again. Intelligent design proponents want to make Oklahoma students study creationism in schools under the guise of a “science” that argues an intelligent designer (or, in their view, the Christian God) created the world. These ID proponents are right-wing, Christian extremists who hide their real interests behind their fake science in order to dumb down Oklahoma students to their own intelligence level.
Will Senate Democrats fight the religious fanatics on this issue and others? This may well shape the state’s economic development for years to come. Radical religious legislation mandating intelligent design and prayer in school and outlawing abortion will only make the state’s residents seem even more narrow-minded as political moderates and progressives prevail nationally. Who but religious extremists would want to raise children here? What types of businesses would want to locate here? The obvious disparity between new Democratic control of the federal legislative branch of government and Oklahoma’s right-wing political nutcases—from Kern to U.S. Sen. James Inhofe—will hurt the state immeasurably. It’s up to the Senate Democrats to save the state from itself in 2007.