Class Warfare: Religious Right Legislators Are Trying Different Tactics to Inject Religion into Public Schools

Article excerpt

Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern said she has a calling--a calling to return America to its roots as a "Christian nation."

"I'm not the typical legislator," Kern said, according to a report last year in the Norman Transcript. "The Lord showed me right off the bat that I'm not supposed to be. As a matter of fact, my Lord made it very clear to me that I am a cultural warrior."

Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican, gained national notoriety for her views that homosexuality is worse than terrorism, and she has always been upfront about her belief that the United States should be based on Christianity.

"What made us great is that we were a nation founded on Christian principles," Kern told a crowd in January 2008. "If you go to the primary sources and read our Founding Fathers, what they had to say, they gave preferential treatment to Christianity."

The legislator's version of history runs counter to most historians, but she's still taking steps to put it into action. That's why Kern has introduced a bill that would inject religion into Oklahoma public schools.

HB 1001, the so-called "Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act," is a sweeping measure that invites students to express religious viewpoints in the classroom or in assignments and prohibits students from being penalized for the religious content of their work. It also allows religious groups and clubs the same access to school facilities as secular groups and requires schools to incorporate policies that allow students to broadcast religious views over the loudspeakers.

Kern is not alone in her attempts to erode church-state separation in public schools. Her Religious Right counterparts across the country are introducing similar measures in their own state legislatures--pushing creationism in the science classroom and urging schools to include unconstitutional Bible study courses in their curriculum.

"These types of bills aren't going to go away," said Dr. Bruce Prescott, a member of Americans United's board of trustees and president of the Norman, Okla., AU chapter. "If they don't succeed with this, they will keep trying to find something else to get through, maybe under a different name."

Last year, another version of Kern's "Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination" Act was vetoed by Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, who accurately insisted that students are already allowed to voluntarily express their faith and that the bill would subject school officials to "an explosion of costly and protracted litigation."

Finding Henry's veto to be "totally bogus," Kern brought the proposal back for another round, claiming on her Web site that all the bill does is codify U.S. Supreme Court decisions and guide school administrators.

Fortunately, as Church & State went to press, Kern's measure was rumored to be failing again.

According to a report by The Tulsa World, Oklahoma State Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee said, "I have a lot of concerns about that bill. Some who have worked in educational settings say it creates more problems than it solves.

"There is plenty of First Amendment protection already," he continued. "There are a lot of issues with that measure. I doubt that it would make it out of the Senate."

Coffee's stance may stem in part from the groundwork put in by Americans United and its allies. Prescott lobbied hard against the legislation in both this session and last. So did the Americans United legislative team.

"Last year, we learned that Coffee was reasonable to work with," said Prescott, who is also an ordained minister and executive director of Oklahoma Mainstream Baptists. "So we worked with him, and gave him the information the Americans United legislative team provided us. So we think that may have something to do with his recent statements."

Prescott said the school religion bill is part of a larger agenda.

"Sally is the ring leader in the 'Christian Nationalist' movement," he said. …