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

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: February 23, 2012

The Jenks and Union school districts filed a suit in district court in September, challenging the constitutionality of the scholarships. They sued the parents of the children who are in the program.

Nelson said the lawsuit could go beyond the issue of public money going to pay private schools.

It could affect Medicaid payments, preschool students attending private religious schools and foster care money going to private religious institutions, Nelson said.

“We spend billions of dollars on those things every year,” he said. “For some reason we have this mysterious carve-out for common education.”

Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said removing Article 2, Section 5 would harm religious freedom in the state. Its elimination could mean the state would have no barrier against providing money to support certain religions.

“As a state we hold this value of separation of church and state very seriously — so much so that we want to reiterate that in our own constitution,” he said. “The Legislature shouldn't be so quick to amend the constitution. They should recognize that the constitution and the rights that it affords the people of Oklahoma aren't just another law or a statute that's passed in any given legislative session. They are part of the governing document that sets forth the long-term vision for our state.”

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