With a Democrat no longer in the governor's office to keep them in check, Republican legislators have filed numerous bills that could violate federal and state prohibitions against mixing religious doctrine with government, a group of concerned residents said Saturday.
“This year we really have a challenge,” said Victor Hutchison, president of Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education and professor emeritus of the University of Oklahoma's zoology department.
Measures include requiring teaching creationism in public schools, paving the way for vouchers for private schools, and establishing when life begins, which could interfere with medical research and a woman's choice to have an abortion, said members of the Oklahoma City chapter of the Americans for Separation of Church and State.
“We've got tons of legitimate problems in this state — economic problems and we've got big deficits,” said Mike Fuller, president of the local group. “These legislators want to focus on these ideological cases that really will not advance our state at all. They'll send it going backward in my opinion.”
About 35 people showed up for Saturday's discussion in the Senate chamber.
Several of the bills were measures introduced since 2005 when Republicans increased their numbers in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The bills were either killed before being allowed to be considered by the full membership in either chamber or were vetoed by then-Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat.
For the first time in state history, Republicans control both the House and Senate and a Republican, Mary Fallin, is in the governor's office. Republicans increased their numbers in both chambers after the November elections; the House picked up eight members for a 70-31 advantage and the Senate picked up six members for a 32-16 majority. This year's session begins Feb. 7.
Republicans won some races based partly on their support for conservative ideological issues.
Some of these ideological measures, such as prohibiting evolution being taught in public schools and embryonic stem cell research, will hurt efforts to attract business to the state, Fuller said.
“Businesses that are looking to expand their operations into states do pay attention to these kinds of things,” he said. “If they are looking at some backwater state that has imposed restrictions on women's rights, scientific education, they're not going to be too inclined to come to a state like that.”