Performance Politics: Religious Intrusion Bills Introduced In Oklahoma Legislature Once Again

Two Oklahoma Senate bills introduced this legislative session, if passed and signed into law, could weaken the ability of schools to clearly teach basic scientific concepts.

Senate Bill 393, introduced by state Sen. Josh Brecheen, a Republican from Coalgate, would require public school administrators to help teachers “present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies” and would allow teachers to “critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.”

This is common coded language by religious extremists and activists to allow creationism or religious precepts about the origin of life to counter the theory of evolution in public classrooms and force teachers to present unclear information about climate change. The language might seem innocuous but its vagueness is the danger.

There is no scientific controversy about the validity of the theory of evolution or climate change. There is controversy among religious extremists over the theory of evolution and a controversial propaganda campaign by the fossil fuel industry to deny the impact of manmade global warming, but it has nothing to do with real science or what students should be taught.

A vast majority of credible scientists believe and have shown proof through the scientific method that planetary life evolved and carbon emissions have accelerated global warming not he planet. Again, there is no scientific controversy despite the media attention given to the views of right-wing religious figures and politicians, such as Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe.

The bill contains a disclaimer that it isn’t about promoting “religious or non-religious” doctrine” but it could very well be instrumental in forcing teachers to discuss untruthful information promoted by religious zealots under the pseudo-science called intelligent design and oil and gas companies, which are concerned with their profits.

These “scientific controversy” type bills have been relentlessly introduced in the past in the Oklahoma Legislature and usually die in the committee that first considers them. SB 393 has been assigned to the Education Committee. Are Republican legislators, who dominate the Senate and House, so emboldened by President Donald Trump’s election that they will dispense with truth as well this year?

Senate Bill 450, introduced by state Sen. Mark Allen, a Republican from Spiro, is a much longer bill that, if passed and signed into law, could also make it more difficult to teach real science in Oklahoma school.

A version of this bill, called the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act, has now been introduced each session for the past several years just like the scientific controversies bill. It too dies in committee. Its aim is to broaden and increase student religious speech and acts in public schools, from speeches to school-sanctioned religious organizations.

Under the bill, schools “may not discriminate against the student based on a religious viewpoint . . .”. According to the bill:

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.

I doubt that any art teacher would “discriminate” against a student for, say, creating a painting that depicts some religious theme, but this would also open the door for students to challenge, again, the scientific method in classes. A science teacher would then have to accept assignments that use reductionist religious dogma to prove points instead of accepted and credible research. This has the very real potential to dumb down Oklahoma students, who live in a state with terrible medical access. How many potential physicians will get steered in the wrong direction by the religious zealots?

The bill, which has been assigned to the Judiciary Committee, also attempts to codify the expression of student religious groups and student speeches at school events.

Let’s hope both bills die again in committee, which would hinder the ability of public schools to educate students in Oklahoma. Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE) is once again helping in the fight to defeat these two bills.

What’s also important to note is that these two bills, along with other introduced conservative bills that would diminish reproductive rights and the rights of the LGBT community, are a conservative performance that has nothing to do with the real business of the state, which faces a $863 million budget shortfall next fiscal year. The type of people who support this divisive legislation year after year aren’t promoting the state’s best interests.