Religion and Politics

Oklahoma House Approves Anti-Research Bill

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A bill inhibiting embryonic stem cell research in the state and opposed by the Oklahoma State Medical Association has overwhelmingly passed the Oklahoma House.

On Tuesday, the House voted 73-14 to approve House Bill 2070, dubbed the Protection of Human Life Act of 2013.

Sponsored by Dan Fisher, an El Reno Republican, the bill would specifically ban “nontherapeutic research that destroys a human embryo or subjects a human embryo to substantial risk of injury or death” or “use for research purposes cells or tissues” obtained from such an embryo.

The main problem with the bill is that it could threaten medical stem cell research in the state while setting an anti-science precedent. While the bill specifically exempts in vitro procedures it also represents yet another gambit among the anti-abortion crowd to minutely focus attention on women’s reproductive systems and conception.

For example, the bill defines a human embryo for the purposes of the bill as “including the single celled stage, that is not located in the body of a female . . .” This language seems unclear. Is that intentional? Does this definition only mean an egg removed from a woman in a medical procedure? Could it have other ramifications?

I’m not trying to ascribe some broader intention here, but parse this definition:

Human embryo means a living organism of the species Homo sapiens at the earliest stages of development, including the single celled stage, that is not located in the body of a female . . .

The Oklahoma State Medical Association, according to a news report, opposes the bill because of the “troubling precedent for future research.” Here are some recent advances in embryonic stem cell research.

This is a bad bill that no matter what its larger implications in terms of defining a human embryo could inhibit bio-medical research here and once again make the statement that a majority of state residents reject scientific research. That's not good for the state.

Religious Intrusion: Science Under Attack Again In Oklahoma

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As expected, the theory of evolution, a foundation of modern science and medicine, will be under fire again this coming legislative session in Oklahoma.

Two bills have been filed that would require school districts to help teachers address so-called “scientific controversies,” which, for creationists, primarily means evolution, a scientific theory that argues the natural world and humans have developed over time.

Senate Bill 758 has been filed by State Sen. Josh Brecheen, a Republican from Coalgate. Titled “the Oklahoma Science Education Act,” SB 758, doesn’t refer specifically to evolution, but it does state:

The State Board of Education, school district boards of education, school district superintendents and school principals shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.

Brecheen has been vocal about his opposition to the theory of evolution. In 2010, he published an article in the Durant Daily Democrat, announcing his intention to do something about it. Here’s some of what he wrote:

The religion of evolution requires as much faith as the belief in a loving God, when all the facts are considered (mainly the statistical impossibility of key factors). Gasp! Someone reading this just fell out of their enlightened seat!!! “It’s not a religion as it’s agreed upon by the entire scientific community,” some are saying at this very moment. Are you sure? Let’s explore the facts.

Consequently, SB 758 appears to be yet another backdoor attempt to distort valid science in high school curriculum with religious concepts, undoubtedly Christian concepts, such as intelligent design, about how the natural world developed. The National Center for Science Education also argues it’s clear Brecheen is modeling his legislation on Tennessee’s so-called “Monkey Law” legislation, passed in that state in 2012.

House Bill 1674, introduced by Gus Blackwell, a Republican from Laverne, specifically mentions evolution and other areas of so-called controversial science. HB 1674, called “the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act,” states:

The Legislature further 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, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on some subjects such as, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.

Much like Brecheen’s bill, Blackwell’s bill also states: “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.”

Note also the reference to “global warming” in the bill, which is the most severe problem facing the planet right now and is almost certain to negatively impact our students' lives in years to come unless we start now to limit manmade carbon emissions. Obviously, this short-sighted bill aims to discredit climate-change science.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Mike Reynolds, an Oklahoma City Republican, has introduced House Bill 1456 or the so-called “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act,” which has been considered before by the legislature but never signed into law. This bill states:

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.

And,

Students shall not be penalized or rewarded on account of the religious content of their work.

In other words, teachers would have to allow reductionist religious challenges to basic scientific information. The bill would also allow students to speak about a “religious viewpoint” in public forums at school.

As I’ve noted, bills similar to the ones submitted by Brecheen, Blackwell and Reynolds have been introduced before in the Oklahoma Legislature but have never been signed into law. These bills and previous bills are based on many fallacies but especially this one: There is no controversy about evolution. It’s only a manufactured controversy by right-wing religious folks, who think the theory of evolution challenges their Biblical beliefs in how the world began and developed. Just like with global warming, there is no major scientific controversy; all the controversy remains outside of science, though creationists have created the faux science of intelligent design to advance their religious agenda. Intelligent design, which a federal court has ruled is NOT valid science, argues that the world is so complicated in its natural forms that it had to be created by a designer, i.e., wink, wink, the Christian version of God.

Anyone concerned about the scientific method, academic integrity, our public school children and the state’s national and world image should oppose these bills, which should be viewed as extremist and radical. Let’s don’t dumb down our students. Evolution and global warming, and other scientific concepts, will still be taught in other parts of the country and the world. Our students will get left behind and many will be embarrassed to live here.

Not Just A Slogan

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The war on women continues here in Oklahoma.

On Thursday, the Tulsa World reported that the Oklahoma Department of Health will no longer allow three Planned Parenthood facilities in Tulsa to participate in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.

WIC, which is funded by the federal government, provides nutritional assistance to at-risk women and children under five who fall below certain income levels.

It’s difficult not to see the department’s move as politically motivated, which was duly noted by Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. There has been a GOP legislative attempt in the past here to prevent Planned Parenthood from distributing WIC help because it makes abortion referrals. The Tulsa facilities don’t provide abortions.

Considering that more than 50 percent of all Oklahoma babies receive some sort of WIC assistance, removing these facilities from distributing aid has the potential to negatively affect the health of thousands of women and children. That the decision could be construed as politically motivated by concerns of the anti-abortion crowd here makes it seem especially repugnant and shameful and illogical. Isn’t “nutrition” something good for “life”? Doesn’t that promote having babies?

June put it this way:

We call on the State to allow us to continue to be a place Oklahoma women and families can trust for these health services. Politics should never interfere with a woman’s access to health services – or food for her children.

A spokesperson for the Health Department said there were “performance factors” involved in the decision and that it was solely a “business decision,” but why the suddenness of the decision and why can’t Planned Parenthood simply address these performance and business issues?

Planned Parenthood is a remarkable organization that has provided contraceptive and reproductive health services to women for decades, and its clinics are widely used throughout the country. Oklahoma women, in particular, need Planned Parenthood more than ever because of the state’s medical access problems.

Unfortunately, the decision to remove the Planned Parenthood facilities from the WIC program wasn’t the only recent health news that could be tied to right-wing extremism in Oklahoma.

Okie Funk and the progressive community recently learned that Norman attorney Marc Nuttle, the board chairman of the right-wing group The Oak Initiative, has been appointed by Gov. Mary Fallin to serve on the board of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the agency that administers SoonerCare or the state’s Medicaid program.

No one can say for sure what ideas Nuttle might bring to the board, but the web site for his organization is quite clear about ideological intent. The organization’s statement of purpose starts this way:

America is in crisis, possibly the greatest threat to its continued existence yet.

And here are some of the things The Oak Initiative is going to do about it:

  • Unlike many other groups, our goal is to see the development of leaders and leadership skills in our members so that along with a shift in the spirit of America, we are ready to champion the core values that are based on biblical or kingdom principles and wisdom.

  • . . . we want to encourage our members to find the wisdom of Daniel who as a captive servant in the realm of a foreign king was able to transform a nation through devotion to his King, strength of character and values, and with a controlled voice governed by respect, grace, and virtue.

  • It’s about bringing wisdom, which we have gained from our personal relationship with the Lord and study of His word, into the market place at every level of social, cultural, and political expression.

  • . . . it’s about being a part of an historical shift in a nation that is called to a destiny by God to disciple other nations.

I wonder how “kingdom principles” might fit into administering health care for low-income people. According to Right Wing Watch, “Nuttle is a Republican adviser and economist with deep ties to an extreme movement within the Religious Right composed of advocates of Seven Mountains Dominionism.” Here’s a site associated with the movement.

Nuttle’s appointment and attacks on Planned Parenthood may seem unrelated in specific terms, but they both come from the same extreme ideological and religious perspective. This ideological and religious perspective, which flourishes in the Republican Party these days, remains a real threat to the basic health of many Oklahomans, especially women and children.

The GOP’s war on women isn’t just a political slogan this election year.

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