Religion and Politics
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.
Republicans control the state government for the first time in the state’s history, and there are growing indications some plan to use this control to impose a far-right agenda.
The signs are ominous the next Oklahoma legislative session will be an ideological crazy-fest featuring bills that ultimately will make the state’s residents seem backwards and intolerant. This can’t be good for economic development here.
Here are some of those signs:
(1) State Rep. Mike Reynolds (R-Oklahoma City) has introduced the Religious Viewpoints AntiDiscrimination Act. Here are a couple of requirements from the bill:
A school district shall treat the voluntary expression by a student of a religious viewpoint, if any, on an otherwise permissible subject in the same manner the district treats the voluntary expression by a student of a secular or other viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject and may not discriminate against the student based on a religious viewpoint, if any, expressed by the student on an otherwise permissible subject.
Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions.
Essentially, if Reynolds bill passes, schools here will be set-up to become bastions of religious conflict. What if a student’s religious viewpoint conflicts with proven science? Will teachers be able to penalize students for using religion to offer inaccurate views of history?
The bill also requires schools to provide forums that “in a manner that does not discriminate against the voluntary expression by a student of a religious viewpoint . . .”
Ultimately, the bill will make the state seem unconcerned with academic standards. Oklahoma already has well-known problems with preparing high school students for college. This bill will not only exasperate the problem, it will also institutionalize academic mediocrity.
Reynolds has also introduced the "Protection of Human Life Act of 2011,” which deals with embryos. The bill would forbid anyone from conducting “nontherapeutic research that destroys a human embryo or subjects a human embryo to substantial risk of injury or death.”
(2) State Sen. Josh Brecheen, from the Durant area, has announced in a newspaper article that he will propose legislation that will challenge teaching only the theory of evolution in schools. He writes:
Using your tax dollars to teach the unknown, without disclosing the entire scientific findings is incomplete and unacceptable. For years liberals have decried how they want to give students both sides of an argument so they can decide for themselves, however when it comes to evolution vs. creation in the classroom, the rules somehow change. Their beliefs shift, may I say... evolve to suit their ideology.
Because of this, Brecheen “will be introducing legislation this session to ensure our school children have all the facts.”
Essentially, Brecheen’s legislation could allow teachers and students to challenge basic scientific principles based on religious beliefs. Again, this type of legislation makes the state seem backwards no matter how much Brecheen and others dress up intelligent design “theory” (wink, wink, “creationism”) with faux-academic language.
In fact, a federal judge has already ruled that intelligent design ideology is essentially creationism and not a scientific theory. Will Brecheen’s measure, if approved, lead to a costly lawsuit for the state?
(3) State Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore) has promised he will introduced an “Arizona-plus” bill that will make the state’s anti-illegal immigration laws even stricter. In 2007, Terrill sponsored a bill that at the time was viewed has the most strictest anti-illegal immigration bill in the country. It passed. Arizona later passed an even stricter law.
Terrill, who now faces a felony bribery charge in a case involving a former legislator, has said he wants to end the practice of giving citizenship to people born to illegal immigrants in the United States.
As I have long argued, the illegal immigration problem deserves a more comprehensive approach and is actually under the purview of the federal government. Terrill’s efforts simply make the state seem intolerant of people from other cultures while making illegal immigrants go deeper into hiding.
Also, expect legislation that, if approved, will allow guns on college campus and open carry of weapons. We can also expect the latest model legislation from the anti-abortion movement.
Former state Rep. Ryan Kiesel should be given an award by The State Chamber of Oklahoma for his recent comments about the Sharia law controversy on Chris Matthews’ Hardball show.
In his comments, Kiesel presented an intelligent argument about how fear on different political levels resulted in State Question 755, the Sharia law amendment, getting on the ballot in the first place and then approved by 70 percent of Oklahoma voters. He defended the majority of Oklahoma voters by arguing they didn’t intend to discriminate against “Oklahoma’s Muslim community.”
SQ 755 is a constitutional amendment that prohibits state courts from using Sharia law, based on the Koran, in rulings. Courts are already duty-bound to use state and federal law in rulings so the amendment is superfluous and demeaning to Muslims. U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange has issued a temporary injunction against the amendment, arguing it violates individual rights.
Kiesel, a Seminole Democrat who didn’t seek reelection this year, put the best face possible on what some people here and elsewhere see as a clear case of cultural xenophobia in the vote. In the Hardball interview, Kiesel said people outside of Oklahoma may look at the overwhelming vote total and “draw conclusions.” He went on to say, “I would encourage them not to do that,” adding the overwhelming majority of voters who approved the measure did not “want to target or discriminate against Oklahoma’s Muslim’s community.”
Essentially, Kiesel argued, voters were faced with a slew of state questions and most probably assumed there was some reason to fear the influence of Sharia law on the courts since SQ 755 was even on the ballot. Meanwhile, some state politicians running for reelection probably feared to oppose the measure because their opponents could have demonized them, he said, and some politicians used the amendment to create fear in voters.
Kiesel’s reasonable and intelligent take on the issue and his defense of Oklahoma voters helps the state’s image, but don’t count on the chamber—primarily a mouthpiece for the Republican Party—to give out awards anytime soon to people who fight against conservative extremism and fear mongering.
I would make two points:
(1) The corporate media here, especially The Oklahoman, failed to make voters aware of how demeaning the SQ 755 was to the state’s Muslim community. The Oklahoman editorial page did oppose the amendment, but it hardly did so with any gusto. If The Oklahoman had given just half the space opposing SQ 755 as it did with SQ 744, the education funding issue, the result may have been different.
(2) Kiesel’s defense of Oklahoma voters falls into a narrative that I have often argued. The narrative is that Oklahomans are basically nice people who end up voting for hateful laws, such as SQ 755, because of the manipulative political process and the growing strictness of ideological lines. I wonder, though, if it’s time to revisit that narrative. Is it possible that most of the people who voted in favor of SQ 755 did so specifically because it attacked Islam, a religion they only associate with terrorism, and they voted with petty hatred and meanness? Under this second narrative, a majority of Oklahomans, generally speaking, may be nice on the surface—chatty small talk, smiles, a willingness to help neighbors with small tasks—but harbor irrational hate against anyone different than them. The state’s overwhelming rejection of the country’s first African American president—something I’ve argued is based at least partially on racism—fits into this second narrative. If this narrative is more valid than the first one, then only education and a willingness of the corporate media to allow dissenting views to the conservative mantra can help. Both are long-term solutions. Unfortunately, we’re in the process of cutting education funding here, and it’s highly unlikely The Oklahoman will add regular, progressive commentary to its editorial pages anytime soon.
In any event, Kiesel’s comments on Hardball should be lauded by anyone concerned with the state’s image.