Should Church and State Remain Separate? Oklahomans Will Soon Vote on That Issue November 4, 2016

Should Church and State Remain Separate? Oklahomans Will Soon Vote on That Issue

In June of 2015, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that a Ten Commandments monument on Capitol grounds was unconstitutional. They specifically said that the blatant promotion of Christianity violated Article 2, Section 5 of the State Constitution, the bit that says no public money can be used to support religion.

Ten Commandments monument in Oklahoma (via James Nimmo)

A year later, legislators were doing all they could to change the Constitution in a way that would allow the Ten Commandments monument to go back up.

The Oklahoma State Senate approved a ballot measure this past March that would remove Article 2, Section 5 from the Constitution altogether. The State House later passed the same measure on a 65-7 vote.

Gov. Mary Fallin completed the process in August, signing a proclamation putting the following question on Tuesday’s ballot:

This measure repeals Section 5 of Article 2 of the Oklahoma Constitution. This section prohibits the use of public monies or property for sectarian or religious purposes.


That’s the twisted route conservative legislators are taking to give the monument a second life.

Now, to be clear, even if voters said yes, the ACLU could file another lawsuit if a new monument went back up. The Ten Commandments display wouldn’t violate the Oklahoma constitution at that point, but a stand-alone monument would still undoubtedly violate the U.S. Constitution. (The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled on this issue before.)

A “Yes” decision also wouldn’t stop groups like the Satanic Temple from requesting their own monuments be placed in the same general location.

But for the time being, conservatives Christians just want the measure to pass with a majority “Yes” vote.

What’s really interesting is how advocates of the repeal are promoting it. They don’t say this is about the Ten Commandments at all. Instead, they use lies and fear to guilt people into voting for it.


According to that image, the measure (officially known as State Question 790) is now about letting Christians “serve the poor,” as if they’re prevented from doing that now. It’s about helping special needs kids. It’s about letting faith-based hospitals help their patients.

And they say very explicitly that the new law would not force the state to accept non-Christian monuments outside the Capitol building.

Kelly Percival, a legal fellow with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, says the conservative legal group Becket Fund has been “posting wildly misleading information and ads about the impacts of SQ790.” As an example, she points to the claim that passing SQ790 would “protect children with disabilities,” because in one case, a child bullied for his disability at a public school was given a voucher to attend a private Christian school. Without passing SQ790, the ad states, that sort of voucher would go away.

Here’s how Percival responds:

… private-school vouchers are not a good thing for students with disabilities. Just last September, the federal government released a report showing that students with disabilities aren’t well served by vouchers. Unlike public schools, private schools are not required to provide special education services to students who need them or to make their facilities wheelchair-accessible. They are also allowed to discriminate against students with disabilities during the application process and to isolate any students they do admit from their nondisabled peers.

Second, last February, the courts upheld the very voucher program discussed in the Becket Fund ad, finding it to be compatible with Oklahoma’s no-aid clause. In Oliver v. Hofmeister, opponents of the voucher program argued that using state funding to send students with disabilities to religious schools violated the no-aid clause. The Supreme Court of Oklahoma disagreed and held that this voucher program was constitutional. It reasoned (incorrectly, AU would say) that the program doesn’t just fund religious schools, it also provides some benefit to the state because the students would otherwise require special-education services from the public schools.

Oklahoma’s no-aid clause does not put this voucher program at risk, and SQ790 does nothing to protect it. It is patently false for the Becket Fund to claim otherwise.

What about Christians serving the poor using state funds? They’re already allowed to do that, too, as long as they’re not proselytizing along the way. Keeping the state’s Constitution as it is wouldn’t change that one bit.

You get the idea. Conservative Christians, as usual, have to lie in order to pretend that church/state separation is really an attack against them. It’s not. It never has been. What these Christians want is the ability to discriminate against people who don’t think like them and the government to promote their faith at the expenses of everyone else’s.

If you live in Oklahoma, remember to vote no on SQ790. Church and state must remain separate.

(Thanks to Amy for the link)

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