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Prayers instead of poems


Kurt Hochenauer December 18th, 2008

State Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, has wasted no time pushing her religious agenda since her re-election to the Oklahoma House last month. Kern, along with state Rep. Mike Reynolds, another Okla...

State Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, has wasted no time pushing her religious agenda since her re-election to the Oklahoma House last month.

Kern, along with state Rep. Mike Reynolds, another Oklahoma City Republican, has introduced the "Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act" for the 2009 state Legislature to consider. The bill should actually be titled the "Religious Intrusion in Oklahoma Schools Act" or maybe the "Submit Prayers Instead of Homework Act."

Here is a portion of Kern's and Reynolds' recently introduced House Bill 1001:

"If the assignment given by a teacher involves writing a poem, the work of a student who submits a poem in the form of a prayer (for example, a psalm) should be judged on the basis of academic standards, including literary quality, and not penalized or rewarded on account of its religious content."

No more praying for an A in Oklahoma when a student can actually get an A for praying, right?

Kern, who is married to a Baptist minister, has pushed religious-intrusion legislation throughout her short but controversial legislative career. She is known around the nation as an anti-gay crusader after her remarks claiming homosexuality is a bigger threat than terrorism were widely distributed. Reynolds is described on his legislative profile as an "Ordained Deacon and a member of Southern Hills Baptist Church."

They contend the point of their bill, according to news reports, is to prevent religious discrimination in schools, although it apparently doesn't matter such discrimination, if it exists, has not surfaced as a major issue. The bill would allow students to express religious views at school and in assignments without penalty. It would allow religious groups the same access to school facilities as secular groups. School speakers could not be discriminated against for expressing religious views.

This could result in an avalanche of school announcements about Jesus, born-again stories at commencement, Christian posters plastered on school bulletin boards and religious challenges of evolution. What about possible daily tributes to Buddha or the Flying Spaghetti Monster at schools?

The bill could create the potential for public schools to become de facto Christian schools because Christianity is the dominant religion here. They could also become volatile compounds of religious conflict. Religious extremists and cult members could get access to school facilities. The bill could create a quagmire of student turmoil and legal challenges.

According to a news report, Reynolds said the bill codifies what the U.S. Supreme Court has determined about religion in schools. But why does the state need to codify in such specific language what the court has ruled? Why create the potential for legal problems if the law supposedly grants students the right to submit prayers as classroom and homework assignments?

The long-term problem with the measure is its potential to gradually dumb down students, who could grow up simply dismissing academic material on religious grounds. It's crucial the state maintain academic integrity in schools. This bill threatens academic integrity at a time when Oklahoma needs better schools and more college graduates.

Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education and other organizations oppose the bill. The state's college presidents and other academic leaders should oppose it as well. Gov. Brad Henry vetoed similar legislation last session, but does the GOP have the votes to override it this year?

Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and the author of the progressive blog Okie Funk: Notes From The Outback.

 
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