Monday, December 8, 2008

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
Bill levels the playing field!
by Steve Fair

State Representatives Mike Reynolds, R, OKC, and Sally Kern, R, OKC, are introducing a bill in the 2009 Oklahoma legislative session that would allow Oklahoma students voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint. The bill would allow a student to express a religious view on an otherwise permissible subject in the same manner as a secular or other viewpoint. "There's a great deal of confusion out there," said Kern, who taught Government at public schools for nearly 20 years. "Any time a student says something about God or Jesus, they're immediately censored."

“Oklahoma families need to know their children will not be persecuted for exercising their constitutional rights and expressing religious beliefs at school," Reynolds said. "While students and guest speakers can't proselytize, they have every right to express their personal beliefs and should be given the same protections afforded nonreligious or even anti-religious officials."

Last session, Kern authored HB 2633 that stated "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." Because of the supposed “vague” language in the bill, Governor Henry vetoed it. The session died before a veto override vote could be taken. Reynolds says he and Kern have written the Governor and said they would work with him on the language in the bill.

Last session’s bill had some controversy when Kern asserted that in a lengthy phone conversation, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sandy Garrett "assured me that she was in favor of it." But Rep. Ray McCarter, D-Marlow--the poster boy for term limits-- disputed that and said he talked to Lealon Taylor, chief of staff for the Department of Education, who said the department did not support the bill. Garrett never took a definite public stand on the bill and McCarter, who opposed the bill, was termed out in November.

Not surprisingly Jim Huff, a retired teacher and the executive secretary of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State—code for atheist—is not for the bill. Huff says, “I fail to see what the purpose is other than simply trying to drum up an issue that doesn’t exist.” But Huff is seeing the playing field from his perspective where secularism is the accepted practice.

This year’s bill will be patterned after a law Texas passed in June 2007 called the Schoolchildren’s Religious Liberties bill and passed both houses with wide margins. It went into effect in September. According to Houston attorney Joe Reynolds—no relation to Mike Reynolds—a 16-year member of the Texas A&M Board of Regents, who has represented more Texas school districts than any other attorney said, “This is the best piece of legislation for school districts that has been introduced in the past 50 years.”

Kelly Coghlan, the legal architect of the Texas legislation said, “This bill does not require or suggest that any child express a religious viewpoint, it just protects them if they do. Religious children do not receive special rights, preferential treatment or extra protection, just equal rights, equal treatment and equal protection.”

"This law is a victory for freedom and non-discrimination for every young Texan," said Rep. Charlie Howard who introduced the bill. “It is win-win for students, school administrators and teachers.”

Who would have thought in the United States that students would be attacked for expressing their faith, but that is how far we’ve come in America. Recently in New York 5-year-old Kayla Broadus was in the news for joining hands and saying grace with her three friends over their cupcakes and milk. She was stopped by her kindergarten teacher. School officials maintained the spoken prayer violated the separation of church and state. Kayla's parents had to take the school to court to get a restraining order.

In a country where 85% of the population claim to be Christians and 95% believe in God, how could we have fallen so far from our nation’s roots? During the recent presidential race, GOP Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin was repeatedly attacked because of her Christian faith. Robert Reyes, a Los Angeles Times columnist, said that because of her faith in creationism, Palin was a “religious fanatic with a Neanderthal faith who thinks that The Flintstones is a reality show." The real fanatic is Robert Reyes who is a tireless evangelist for secular humanism.

Freedom of speech is under attack in our country and particularly the freedom to express one’s religious viewpoint. In the name of political correctness, indidivual student rights have been trampled on. This bill will level the playing field for students of faith and protect school districts. It deserves bi-partisian support.

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