Religion and Politics
Arrr! It’s yer bird with the gobbler, the pirate turkey named Plansky coming to Oklahoma to deliver the goods this holiday season. Sailin’ strong, aye, with a crew of tail feathery sailors, aboard a beauty of a vessel, laden with sparkly treasure, coming down I-35 towards Oklahoma City with a birditude. If yer done well, then yer get me dranks, some strong cups of rum aboard me vessel from Planksy’s private barrel, limited edition. It’s a strong brew fer sure, mateys. If yer done bad, well, aye, yer get me dastardly planks, a short dance or two to the hornpipes before a lil’ dip with the toothy, hungry fishes. Arrr!
Dranks: Ahoy, me lasses and lads, the first dranks go to state employees, a sturdy crew of gobbler goodness, many gone without a raise for seven long bilge ratty years. The landlocked lubbers they call leaders in this place gave raises to the bigwigs, but not to the fearless crew. On Planksy’s ship, we’re all in it together, and share our bounty alike. It’s the pirate’s creed. So here’s to yer, and get on board quick for some of me special rum, mateys, aged to perfection for its birdly excellence.
Planks: Arr! What’s a bird to do when all yer tail feathers freeze? Me first planks go to ice storms. How’s a vessel supposed to navigate with this thick ice all about? Avast, it’s the planks for yer! The planks! Don’t come back until you’ve melted.
Dranks: Lads, lasses, me next dranks go to all yer people who want some decent fracking regulations. Arrr! The earth around these parts shakes too much for a bird’s likin’, and it might be because of all this fracking, or, specifically, these blarmy, lubbery wastewater injection wells. Ahoy, when yer mess with the rock layer, it gets, well, rockin’. So come on board, lasses and lads, yer doing good, and let’s drink away for a night and then keep pushin’ for what’s right. Arr!
Planks: Are yer ready to take the plunge, all ye Obamacare haters? It might take a month or two, there’s so many of yer, but yer get me planks, anyways. Ahoy, I think I see me one thar and thar and thar. But what yer goin’ to squeal when everyone gets signed up? What kind of bird hates something it doesn’t even know about? Not the most intelligent gobbler, that’s fer sure. The planks and the toothy fishes await yer tired chirps.
Dranks: He’s the bird with the word, a swaying gobbler in the breeze, bold yet unpretentious, a rascally soul with gifts to give, none other than, hornpipes please, Planksy, the pirate turkey! I give meself me strong dranks of rum as I dance away the holidays on me ship. Bird lovers galore, have yerself a time or two this holiday season, and enjoy that tofurkey! Arr!
My session-end reflections about this year’s state legislature have been delayed by the writing I did in the aftermath of the tornadoes that struck here in late May, killing more than 40 people.
Pundits and politicians recently weighed in with their so-called legislative “report cards” as if their political affiliation or ideology doesn’t somehow matter in the process. Gov. Mary Fallin gave the session an A, for example. Really? That should be enough said about this silly annual ritual.
I won’t rehash the small Republican tax cut that might not even make it through a court challenge or the almost complete lack of compassion among Republicans when it comes to expanding Medicaid coverage here under the Affordable Care Act. The “Fallin A” includes that and more. Fallin and other Republicans also point to so-called reform of the workers’ compensation system this year, but reform is a double-edged sword. Benefits to injured workers will be cut for the sake of business profits.
I do want to talk about one complete win this legislative session for progressives and intellectuals in the state. That win includes the demise of all religious intrusion bills attacking directly or indirectly the teaching of evolution in schools. The overall purpose of these bills is really nothing less than to replace science and rational thought with right-wing Christian dogma in our schools. It’s an open attempt at religious indoctrination, although its supporters—the religious folks—are not upfront about it.
The bills that were considered this year included HB 1674, which claimed topics such as evolution, cloning and global warming are controversial and thus teachers should focus on the strengths and weaknesses of their claims. The main problem, of course, is there’s no controversy among scientists about these subjects. The controversy is generated by right-wing Christian fundamentalists.
A somewhat similar bill, SB 758, ended up dead as well. Two other bills HB 1940 and HB 1456, or “Religious Viewpoint Antidiscrimination Acts,” which would have brought all kinds of religious dogma into our public schools didn’t make it through either.
It might seem like a small victory, but for 13 years now the intellectual community has fought this type of backwards legislation and won. I’ve been publicly opposing anti-evolution bills here for about eight or nine years. It’s draining. Those who would turn our government and schools into theocracies are relentless. They believe themselves to be on a mission from their God.
One organization leading the fight for intellectual integrity again this year was Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education. Its founder, Dr. Victor Hutchison, who is George Lynn Cross Research Professor Emeritus in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma, deserves yet another round of applause for his diligence in following the legislation and getting the intellectual community to contact legislators.
“The demise of these bills this year can be attributed to the large number of messages sent to the appropriate committees by national and state organizations and the individuals who responded to requests to help,” Hutchison wrote in a recent OESE email. “To all who did, THANK YOU – your efforts paid off as usual! None of these types of bill have passed during the past 13 years! However, we will likely have to continue opposition next year. The authors of these bills, and their supportive legislators, continue to be anti-science and, in many ways, anti-education.”
I’ll give Hutchison an A in my legislative report card and leave the rest of the grading to someone else.
Oklahoma’s anti-science movement rolls on in 2011. State Sen. Steve Russell (R-Oklahoma City), pictured right, has introduced legislation this upcoming session that would make it a felony to conduct research on embryos in the state.
Under Senate Bill 136,
B. No person shall:
1. Knowingly conduct scientific research on a human embryo, fetus or fetal part;
2. Transfer a human embryo, fetus or fetal part with the knowledge that the embryo, fetus or fetal part will be subjected to scientific research; or
3. Use for scientific research purposes cells or tissues that the person knows were obtained by performing activities in violation of this section.
Under the bill, anyone violating these rules would face a felony charge that could lead to a year of incarceration to life imprisonment and at least a $100,000 fine. (That’s right. Someone could face life in prison in Oklahoma for actually trying to save lives through medical research.)
State Rep. Mike Reynolds (R-Oklahoma City) has also introduced the Protection of Human Life Act of 2011, a similar bill, in the House. Reynolds’s bill would also make such research a felony crime.
The nation’s pro-life movement has embraced the banning of embryonic stem cell research as a political issue, but scientists maintain such research could lead to new, important medical treatments for diseases. There remains a huge number of unused embryos worldwide because of the popularity of the in vitro fertilization process for otherwise infertile couples. Generally speaking, both the medical and business communities support such research.