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Oklahoma's constitutional separation of church and state measure could face repeal

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: February 23, 2012

Voters would be asked to decide whether to remove a section of Oklahoma's constitution that prohibits state money from being used for any church or religious teacher.

Rep. Jason Nelson asked a House of Representatives committee Wednesday to approve sending the question to voters as a way to allow continued state payments to religious-based organizations if two school districts win their lawsuit challenging a state scholarship program.

The proposal calls for voters to consider removing Article 2, Section 5 of the state constitution. That section is also known as the Blaine Amendment because of the efforts of supporters of James Blaine who in the 1870s worked to get states to adopt wording in their constitutions to forbid direct government aid to educational institutions that have any religious affiliation.

The Rules Committee passed House Joint Resolution 1087 by 11-1. It now goes to the full House.

Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, is the author of legislation passed two years ago that established the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities. It allows the parents of children with disabilities to transfer them to a school of their choice and receive a portion of the per-student state funding that would have gone to the public school the student originally attended.

Nelson said if the state scholarship program is ruled constitutional or the school districts drop their lawsuit, he would not pursue getting his measure on the ballot. To get it on the November ballot, lawmakers would have to approve the measure before they adjourn in late May.

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