A group of citizens concerned about religious views spilling into legislation to be considered by Oklahoma lawmakers this year vowed Saturday to oppose the measures.
Some of the measures include legislation that was introduced last year, but stalled during the legislative process, such as a bill that would grant “personhood” status to a human embryo and another that opponents say could allow religion in public schools.
The conservative-leaning measures, if approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by a GOP governor, could interfere with a woman's choice to have an abortion and allow certain religious views to creep into public school classrooms, said members of the Oklahoma City chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. About 45 attended Saturday's meeting at the Belle Isle Public Library, 5501 N Villa Ave.
John Loghry, chapter president, said he is concerned the measures could pass this year because more Republican lawmakers who are more likely to support the legislation were elected in November. Republicans in the House of Representatives have increased their majority from 67-31 at the end of last year's session to 72-29. Republican senators increased from 32-16 to 36-12. Both are record highs for Republicans in either chamber.
“I don't think we necessarily have the check and balance between liberal and conservative,” Loghry said. “We definitely swung very conservative and I am afraid of the some of the legislation that may come out and the effects that it will have.”
Lawmakers return Monday to convene the first session of the 54th Legislature.
Loghry said he is also troubled about vague wording in some of the measures. They seem harmless on face value, but their intentions appear to be to inflict religious views on state laws.
“They come back again and again, they revise the language a little bit,” he said. “They all kind of vague it up in the hope that they'll be able to push it through without being specific.
“They're hoping to pass something vague that the churches will be able to view and interpret in such a way that they'll be able to get what they want, basically,” Loghry said. “They'll be able to get the religion in the schools and be able to chip away at education of evolution, global warming, human cloning.”
Damion Reinhardt, the chapter's treasurer, spoke against House Bill 1456, authored by Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City. Its intent is to guarantee that public school students who express religious views at school get the same protections as students expressing secular views. It would allow students who speak at school events to give their religious viewpoints, but not a prayer.
It is similar to a measure filed last year that failed to advance in the Legislature and a bill passed in 2008 by the Legislature, but vetoed by then-Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat.
Chas Stewart, the chapter's secretary, warned about two measures that could allow religious beliefs such as creationism in the classroom.
Senate Bill 758, by Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, is vague, but HB 1674, by Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne, states that the teaching of some scientific concepts can cause controversy. The listed controversial subjects include biology, chemistry, meteorology, bioethics and physics.
The measure also states that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on subjects such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning.
“These bills are clearly anti-science, period,” said Victor Hutchison, founder of Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education and professor emeritus of the University of Oklahoma's zoology department.
Another attempt will be made to pass personhood legislation, which holds that individual rights and constitutional protections begin at conception.
HB 1029, by Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, is similar to last year's measure that caused an emotional battle in the House before it failed to get a vote on the floor. Reynolds also last year backed a resolution with the same language, but the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled it was unconstitutional because it would interfere with a woman's right to an abortion.
“The goal is to eliminate a woman's right to choose an abortion,” said Mike Fuller, immediate past president of the local chapter of Americans United. “Ever since Roe v. Wade, there's been all kinds of obstacles, hurdles … to chip away at that constitutional right.”