A School Prayer Bill in Oklahoma Will Allow for More Student-Led, Administration-Supported Proselytization

Just days after the Mississippi legislature passed an unnecessary bill that would allow for even more Christian privilege in public schools, lawmakers in Oklahoma are doing the same thing, with much of the same language.

Rep. John Bennett

Rep. John Bennett sponsored and passed HB 1940 (PDF), which “guarantees the right of school students to talk about God and other religious subjects at school.”

Since that was already allowed, what was this really about? The text of the bill offers some clues:

To ensure that the school district does not discriminate against a publicly stated voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint by a student, if any, and to eliminate any actual or perceived affirmative school sponsorship or attribution to the district of the expression of a religious viewpoint by a student, if any, a school district shall adopt a policy, which shall include the establishment of a limited public forum for student speakers at all school events at which a student is to publicly speak.

That’s politic-speak for “Christians can proselytize whenever they want.”

It’s almost word-for-word the same text as the Mississippi bill.

And since he’s copying from them, I’ll say what I said before:

Here’s what that means in English: At football games, pep rallies, graduations, and morning announcements — anywhere where students speak — they must be allowed to pray. The school would have to offer a disclaimer that they’re not endorsing these views, but rather offering a “limited public forum.”

Since Christians are in the majority in the state, this means students of minority faiths (and no faith) would be subject to hearing Christian prayers at just about all school functions.

Randy Krehbiel of the Tulsa World reports that, in case there was any doubt, Bennett has religious motives for doing this:

Citing the prophet Elijah and the priests of Baal, Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, persuaded his Oklahoma House of Representatives colleagues to pass a bill Thursday morning he said guarantees the right of school students to talk about God and other religious subjects at school.

Rep. Ben Sherrer, D-Chouteau, said the bill is really a thinly disguised attack on a non-existent “urban legend” that there is an “anti-God, anti-Christian atmosphere pervading public education.

But Bennett and his supporters seemed to be in at least partial disagreement.

“We are a Christian nation, maybe not formally, but we are a Christian nation,” said Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, debating in favor of the bill.

The bill passed 79-13 in the House and now it’s up to the Republican-controlled Senate and the Republican Governor… so this bill isn’t getting stopped anytime soon.

Even sadder, though, is that even the bill’s opponents voted in favor of Christian superiority. When pressed on why they were against this bill, they said they worried that it would lead to more lawsuits and “open the door for ‘demonics, Muslims and Buddha’”…

In other words, their concern was that this bill would allow for non-Christian points of view to be heard.

And we can’t have that now, can we?

For any Oklahoma (or Mississippi) students who want to fight back against this bill, the way to do it is to become a speaker at a school event next year and start leading the school in non-Christian prayer. Pray to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Say God doesn’t exist. Better yet, pray to Allah. Use the Christians’ own law against them.

For adults (especially Christians), speak out against this bill and those who voted for it. And then please, please, please urge your friends and family members to vote these theocrats out of office.

I know that’s asking a lot, but it has to start somewhere.

(Thanks to Beau for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • AbnormalWrench

    Any time I see the phrase “This is a Christian nation”, I translate it into “This is a nation of white people”. It puts in perspective what they are really saying, that their group is somehow more special than other groups.

  • named

    I prefer to think of it as a National Socialist nation. Considering the church has quite a strong, oppressive grip around people of all colors and nationalities, it doesn’t really make sense that any particular color would have full control over others (even if it’s true).

    Now, as far as the Nazi party is concerned, that makes a lot more sense. They allowed others to believe whatever they wanted as long as they had free reign to oppress them in whatever means they could think of. It also helps explain why so many extreme bigots want their local police to “round up the gays” as I so often hear them say.

  • AbnormalWrench

    I think you miss the point I was making. The reason I use a non-ideological attribute in the analogy is to demonstrate how it is a false appeal to majority rule. It doesn’t matter if they are in the majority, that doesn’t change the rights of people in the minority.

  • Frank

    If they take the forum idea seriously, in the contexts they’re talking about here (morning announcements, athletic events), it will annoy the hell out of everyone. The occasional atheist who has the courage to pray to the FSM isn’t going to be what does these forums in. It will be the student who wants to take the opportunity to complain about the quality of food in the lunch room, or how terrible some school policy is, or why last nights episode of The Walking Dead was such a disappointment. If the school is really opening up a forum for private student speech in these contexts, then they have to let all of that in too, and students will do it. And then people will be annoyed as hell at the waste of time, and shut down the forum. So I’m guessing in a lot of cases the effect of this law won’t be student led prayer at these events, it will be a complete absence of student speakers at these events. And maybe after that goes on long enough, these legislators will come to their senses and repeal it.

  • A3Kr0n

    Good. I’d hate to run out of things to bitch about. Not that it has ever been a problem in the past.

  • CleTuS

    Once again, The South. When Boss Hog and Roscoe P. Coltrane become the erudite examples of a region, it is time to shut it down.

  • named

    In my opinion, the analogy loses all context in any situation that deprives it of crucial facts and comparisons. In the US, the caucasian skin tone is on the decline, and many darker-skinned people are starting to take up arms in the fight for religious privilege and supremacy. The day a black senator invokes the “Christian nation” argument is the day your comparison will be entirely invalidated.

    I think it’s better to think of religion as a virus rather than a race. That way it’s easier to see how it evolves to infect as many people as it can, which is significantly different than a family or community set of traditions that will one day die out.

  • Mario Strada

    I don;t think they’ll repeal it if it isn’t used enough. It’s simply going to be pushed into the dustbin but remain in the books. They are going to have no incentive to repeal it.

    I see two solutions: a judicial one or taking over the law for purposes they would disagree with.
    I would hope to be able to ally with other religions to fight this: wiccans, muslims, pagans, etc. but each of those religion would probably view the law as an opportunity and especially in the case of muslims in some jurisdictions, they may even think that given enough time they will be able to use it for their own purposes.

    I think there are enough indications that this law is unconstitutional and designed to promote one religion above the others that it should lose in court of challenged.

  • Sue Blue

    So, “other religious subjects”….does that mean that Wiccans, Buddhists, Muslims, Scientologists, Jews, Mormons, Satanists, Pagans, Zoroastrians, Voodoo practitioners, Baal-worshippers, FSM-worshippers, Dudists, etcetera, etcetera – all of them get to talk about their particular flavor of superstition anytime during school, and can proselytize each other all they want? How about actual practice – you know, like sacrificing goats, calves, and chickens? Taking time out of class to genuflect and pray five times a day? Wearing yarmulkas, niqabs, and collanders? Oh, you say school would devolve into chaos? Then why not just keep religion at home and education at school? Oh…I guess you just meant “evangelical protestant god-believers” when referring to “God” and “religion”.

    Methinks this kind of legislation represent the desperate flailing of the increasingly irrelevant. Why does their supposedly all-powerful, loving “god” need codified protection and worship?

  • Frank

    I’m not sure about using it in court, but my point wasn’t about it not being used. My point was that students will use it for stupid stuff. The forums it creates aren’t limited to religious speech, they have to be open for whatever stupid shit a high school student has on his mind that he just wants to express to the whole school community. It’s the stupid stuff that will doom the forums, not the stuff the theocrats disagree with. And because of this law, the schools won’t be able to have students speaking at public events without the forums. So they just won’t have students speaking at all. Staff will have to give the morning announcements. Students won’t be able to speak at graduation ceremonies. And that complete absence of student speakers is what is going to piss people off enough to repeal it I hope.

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    I think you’d get better traction praying to either Satan or the Goddess Earth Mother than you would praying to Allah. I mean, these guys hate Islam with an (un)holy passion, but at least they’ve heard about it and agree with its views on women and religion in society. Praying to the Devil or praying to a female deity though … that would really get their goat.

  • Guesty Guest

    Uh, I think the comparison was on the level of dominant privilege, i.e. both white people and Christians enjoy the privileges of being the controlling majority, and so the incidence of a Black Christian saying Christiany things really doesn’t invalidate the comparison at all. As a Christian, that Black person would still be wallowing in Christian privilege.

  • Blacksheep

    That’s an interesting perspective. Of everyone I know, the percentage of practicing Christians is much higher among my non-white acquaintances.

  • Blacksheep

    Speaking publicly about what one believes is not proselytizing. Different definition. To proselytize is to induce someone to convert. When someone prays, they’re not “inducing” or “recruiting”, they’re just praying.

  • 3lemenope

    The danger of metaphors is that people take them more literally than they are intended. I think Guesty Guest above has the right of it, in that the implicit comparison is about privilege, not demographic minutiae.

  • 3lemenope

    It’s not proselytization (directly), but it *is* evangelism, in the “let your life be your witness of God” sense. Which is all fine and good except that when it is institutionalized it has the baneful social effect of telling everyone-not-Christian to conform or eff off. Spontaneous prayer is not the problem (though Jesus might have an issue with Christians’ public prayer habits today). It is when it is given the imprimatur of approval/encouragement from secular authorities that it becomes something socially poisonous.

  • named

    The danger of text is that people take what they read to mean what the writer meant as literal and truthful in every respect. When it comes to general racism, claiming one group is more racist than another only creates more racism between both groups.

    If people want vague, unintelligible assertions and ridiculously hard to literally interpret viewpoints, they should go read their bibles.

  • 3lemenope


    Seriously, it wasn’t that hard to figure out what AbnormalWrench was getting at. [S]He even followed up with a more pointed explanation of the intended comparison, explaining the metaphor. What else could you possibly want?

  • named

    How about a metaphor that doesn’t paint every fair-skinned person in existence as elitist and overprivileged Christians that want nothing less than to dominate all forms of life with their God-driven political agendas?

    That’s probably too much to ask… How DARE I defend those scum-bag whites?!

  • 3lemenope

    Talking as a white guy in western civilization, I am definitely, gobsmackingly, stupendously overprivileged compared to many of my fellow humans in this same society. I need not intend it to be so, and I need not pursue any agenda consonant with it. It just is. It happens by dint of belonging to the default group, the group that has the exclusive privilege of not having to be confronted with their otherness on a daily basis.

    So before you bust a vocal cord defending me and my ilk, know you face a rather uphill battle.

  • named

    Fighting racism will always be an uphill battle, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth fighting against.

    Saying that one culture is somehow superior ‘just because’ takes a lot away from other cultures just by sheer desire and expectancy. Their is a huge problem with the world today that if you need any kind of representation for a company, it’s generally considered best if you ‘get yourself a white guy.’ When dealing with meetings, or even over the phone, the slightest accent can make or break a deal worth millions of dollars. This is an often overlooked pandemic that makes global business hard for anyone ‘born the wrong color,’ and it needs to stop. *grabs soapbox* People need to stop judging others for what they look like, and start judging them based on their actions and the choices they make.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rishiraj.kumar.125 Rishi Raj Kumar

    You will have to accept that we atheists have got a negative image. Let us call ourselves rationalists. Moreover, let us be more positive in our outlook. The universe is a beautiful place. It is orderly and we are not afraid to die.

  • observer

    I have an interesting idea for a protest: have the students who are against this “proselytize bill” wear shirts or hold signs saying “Matthew 6:5-6″*. And when the students and faculty look up what it means, lets see what kind of excuses they come up with on how this form of protesting from their Bible is somehow silencing them.

    *5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” 6 “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”

  • DT

    Sorry, but this allows for non-religious students to have more freedom to express their views if you think about it. Take away a religious person’s rights to express their beliefs and you take away a secularist or an atheist’s rights to speak to his or her viewpoints And that is a dangerous and slippery slope If a kid can’t proclaim Jesus, than a kid can’t come to school on ‘favorite fictional character day’ dressed as Jesus, and on and on it goes. Better to allow students the right to free speech even in our schools, than begin down the path of ‘only certain speech should be allowed.’