Harming Religious Freedom: For Some Oklahoma Senators, It’s As Easy As 1, 2, 3

  Image by MachineHeadz/Getty Images

Image by MachineHeadz/Getty Images

Oklahoma's SB 197, a "religious freedom" bill, passed out of the Oklahoma Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, along with two other extreme bills. This post from AU's Wall of Separation blog explains why this SB 197 and another bill that seeks to violate church-state separation are so dangerous.

Within 15 minutes it was done: the Oklahoma Senate Judiciary Committee voted to pass three extreme bills yesterday with— no debate necessary. The first bill would allow prayer in public schools (SB 450), the second would make the state’s law requiring parental consent for a minor to receive abortion care even more severe (SB 753) and the third would gut the state’s civil rights laws by allowing a range of individuals and businesses to discriminate so long as it’s based on a sincerely held religious belief (SB 197). It was as easy as 1, 2, 3.

All three of these bills raise constitutional concerns. Here’s a rundown of the first and third, both of which directly harm religious freedom.

SB 197

SB 197 is called the “Oklahoma Right of Conscience Act,” but is really about discrimination. It would allow individuals, for-profit corporations government contractors and even government officials to refuse to serve their fellow Oklahomans if doing so would be contrary to their “sincerely held religious beliefs or conscience … regarding marriage, lifestyle or behavior.” You read that right: This bill provides creates a black hole in state and local nondiscrimination laws.  So long as the discrimination is based in religious views, no other state laws will apply. This bill, based on so-called First Amendment Defense Acts, goes far beyond any others we’ve seen. Here’s just a few examples of the discrimination people could face. It would allow a hotel operator to refuse to rent a room to a married woman traveling alone for work if he believed that married women should not be employed outside of the home. A judge could refuse to sign a marriage license for a couple because they did not attend church every Sunday. This bill would even allow a restaurant to refuse to host an interfaith couple’s wedding because of the restaurant owner’s religious objections to the couple’s union. Religious freedom guarantees us all the freedom to believe or not as we see fit, not give individuals and businesses the right to ignore laws that prohibit discrimination. This bill flies in the face of real religious freedom.

SB 450

SB 450 purports to protect students from being discriminated against because of their religious views. But a quick review of its provisions reveal that it is just a ruse to instigate prayer in Oklahoma’s public schools. The measure would prohibit school districts from restricting what it calls a student’s “voluntary religious expression in the classroom.” Under this bill, students could claim a right to proselytize fellow classmates during class and schools would have to allow students to deliver morning announcements and introduce varsity football games and any other school function “from a religious viewpoint.” No matter how the bill describes school prayer, it’s still school prayer.

Religious freedom is a fundamental American value. Forcing prayer upon public-school students violates this freedom and make students who practice their faith differently from the majority or who adhere to minority faiths or are nontheists feel like outsiders.

These are sweeping bills that undercut the rights of all Oklahomans, provide cover for discrimination by the government and violate the Constitution’s well-established protections for religious freedom. It’s amazing that these Oklahoma Senators could so easily pass them. Just 1, 2, 3.