A national group is seeking volunteers to lobby Oklahoma lawmakers to oppose religiously based measures, which have been on the increase since Republicans gained control of the Legislature four years ago.
“Some of the most egregious examples of attempts to insert religion into government are happening at the state level,” said Lauren Anderson Youngblood, spokeswoman for the Secular Coalition for America. “We know that Oklahoma has had some bills that we would consider to be unacceptable.”
The nonprofit group was formed 10 years ago to lobby Congress, she said. Chapters have been formed in 38 states since June; Oklahoma is among the remaining 12 states where chapters are being started.
“The separation of religion and government was set up to protect nonreligious and religious people,” she said. “This is really an issue that we see as nonpartisan, an issue that is one of the core founding principles of our country. It's not an issue that is hostile to religion. We're not telling people that they just don't have the right to their religious beliefs. We're not trying to convert anyone to atheism. We're just simply saying (religion) has no place in our government.”
When faith matters
Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, who has written legislation that would have allowed public school teachers the freedom to teach various conflicting theories without the fear of losing their jobs, said she supports separation of religion and government, but it's difficult to separate a lawmaker's faith.
“One's faith, they don't leave it at the doorstep of the Capitol when they walk in,” she said. “Faith is what guides us in any decision we make. To live one way, to say your faith, your beliefs … in one area of life and not in the other — that's hypocrisy.”
Her measure, House Bill 1551, failed to win approval the past two years. She said the bill was not intended to bring religious beliefs, such as creationism, into the classroom. Critics said otherwise.
“Everybody has convictions and opinions,” Kern said. “Those should guide our lives. A religious conviction is something that you don't lay aside outside the Capitol. When you look at Oklahoma, we are a people strongly committed to faith. Laws always follow faith and morality. To deny the people of Oklahoma their legislators being able to live by their convictions and exercise their faith when they sit at their desks is hypocritical and ridiculous.”
Youngblood said she hopes volunteers will be in place by the time next year's session starts in early February. No specific legislative agenda has been set for the Oklahoma chapter yet.
“We really need people at the state level that can lobby the lawmakers to prevent some of this stuff from being adopted,” she said. “These will be citizens that will be trained on lobbying and they will be responsible for lobbying their state government and for formulating this chapter.”
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AT A GLANCE
Legislation taken up during this year's Oklahoma legislative session that would have drawn opposition from Secular Coalition for America includes:
Senate Resolution 62
• Reaffirms support for traditional marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Senate Bill 1433
• The personhood bill, which defines life as beginning at conception.
House Concurrent Resolution 1024
• Declares the official motto of the state to be “Oklahoma — in God We Trust.”
House Bill 2460
• Expands religious refusal laws for health care providers.