Oklahoma House Speaker Adds a Chapel to the Blueprints of the Soon-To-Be-Renovated State Capitol Building

Things a State Capitol building needs: A place where legislators can cast votes. Some conference rooms. Offices for the elected officials. Maybe a gift shop.

Things a State Capitol building doesn’t need: A home for Jesus.

Yet, in blueprints for the soon-to-be-renovated Capitol building in Oklahoma, House Speaker T.W. Shannon (R-Lawton) appears to have added plans for a chapel:

Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon

“The idea of a chapel has been put out there, and as far as that idea, we would have to look at what other states deemed constitutional before we proceed with a such a plan,” Joe Griffin, a spokesman for [Shannon] said Monday.

The chapel was Shannon’s idea, Griffin said.

The room also could be used for storage or another purpose, he said.

“No taxpayer money has been spent on a chapel other than the ink that is on the blueprints,” Griffin said Tuesday. “If we are able to create a chapel, we would love to. But we are not going to do anything that is not constitutional.”

Sounds hopeful. But I have this nagging feeling that Shannon knows damn well how unconstitutional this is. He just figured no one would find out until it was already built and no one would care afterwards.

I wonder if there’s any evidence to support that theory…

“There was no mention of a Capitol chapel in budget discussions last session or in any subsequent discussion we’ve had with the House about its renovations,” said John Estus, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

Surprise, surprise. It was a last-second addition.

This isn’t a church

Well, here, I’ll make this very easy for Shannon. The Oklahoma Constitution, which he clearly hasn’t read, says this in Article 2, Section 5:

No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.

Problem solved. Remove the chapel. Replace it with something that represents all the people of the state, not just the religious ones.

I don’t have high hopes they’ll do the right thing. After all, this is the same state where the governor just denied spousal benefits to all members of the Oklahoma National Guard just so she could discriminate against gay ones. If it advances their religious agenda, these Republicans will do anything.

(Bottom image via Shutterstock. Thanks to @MhansenMark for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Sven2547

    Oklahoma legislator, Patheos blogger, and Christian-supremacist Rebecca Hamilton will probably approve, and loudly decry any disagreement as authoritarian anti-Christian bigotry.

    • cary_w

      HaHa, I actually got her to not-delete and respond to a few of my comments on one of her recent anti-abortion rants! She won’t answer my questions and just spews Pro-life propaganda, but it warms my heart to think she actually read some of my comments!

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    I would support it if we could just line the floors with industrial size sticky mousetraps. Or for the more humanely minded, the chapel could be converted into those big traps that they use to relocate troubled bears. Just imagine, a bible-thumbing anti-woman state legislator goes into the chapel to pray to Jesus about the best way to prevent gays from being treated like humans, and then a cold steel door closes behind them. A tranquilizer dart and 500 miles later, the state legislator is released into the wilds of North Texas never to legislate again.

    • http://www.dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      They try that with bears here in Colorado, but more often than not the problem animals just migrate back to their original territory. So you need to tag their ears each time they cause problems. An animal with two tags gets put down.

      Okay. I can see how that could work with legislators found in a chapel.

      • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

        I was thinking about that and I think I have a humane solution. First, bears are a lot smarter than most state legislators, so that the likelihood of a legislator finding its way back to its home district is pretty slim. Secondly, for the repeat offenders, it instead of releasing them again to be free-range, we can build a very simple enclosure. Just a twenty foot square area roped off by a bit of twine with the sign, “Obama and liberal democrats want you to leave this area.” They would never dare leave the enclosure.

    • JET

      Can you set up a Kickstarter for this?

    • Jeff

      DON’T YOU DARE! We’ve been trying to trap and relocate our own thumpers OUT of Texas, thank you.

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

        Seriously! Why do they always want to release them here. We have enough problems as it is. Send them to California or somewhere where the nutbaggery will get them laughed to scorn, not reelected.

        • islandbrewer

          California? NO! We have strict laws in order to protect our agriculture from outside pests.

          *Points to New York* Send them there.

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

            Waiting for a New Yorker to suggest a location. What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a classic NIMBY problem.

            • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

              How about we send them to the most desolate, isolated place– where there is nary a living soul for these legislators to bother…. Canada.

              • Little_Magpie

                hey, keep your nutty politicians to yourselves! We’ve got enough problems with our own, TYVM.

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

                  What about Bikini Atoll? Can we send them there?

                • Little_Magpie

                  that sounds better

                • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

                  We already nuked it once. Haven’t we done enough damage there. How about the North Pacific Garbage Patch?

  • Yoav

    I wouldn’t be surprised if he never planed for it to be built, this way he can collect his jesus brawny points, tell people how he’s a prosecuted christian to whom they should send money, and not have to actually do anything.

    • Bill

      Did you mean “brownie” points, or did you just sneak in a brilliant Koch Brothers dig? Either way, I agree with you.

    • cary_w

      Oh yeah! Just like “the power of prayers”, I can show you how much I care by doing absolutely nothing!

  • L.Long

    This is Oklahoma!! Of course they have a chapel, where else are they going to get answers? You don’t think these people will get around to using thinking and reasoning??

  • Freethinker33

    They’ll doubtless claim that it would be open to use by any denomination/any religion and therefore would not break the law. ARGH. It would be nice if the idiots in the OK legislature would quit trying to do illegal things; it just wastes a lot of time and money when the courts have to say no, you can’t do that!

  • http://www.dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    While I generally consider chapels and churches to be of net negative value, in this case, I believe there is a way to make one positive. Simply replace the part of the capitol where the legislators vote with the chapel. By eliminating the ability of the legislators to legislate, Oklahoma will experience some improvement over its current state.

  • Stev84

    Why are there churches (as in the buildings) again? Apparently they serve no purpose when there need to be extra chapels in other buildings.

    • Richard Thomas

      $$$

    • http://www.shockandblog.com/ Jay McHue

      So you support legislators running off during the middle of their paid work time to go pray at church?

      • Madison Blane

        If you need a church to pray, then you need to sort out your religion! The Bible says to use your closet, not a temple. It gives explicit instructions!

  • mkbell

    I doubt that it is unconstitutional for them to have a space that can be used for prayer or meditation. Calling it a chapel should not in itself disqualify it.

    • John Gills

      Sadly, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the term chapel has always had Christian religious connotations.

      http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03574b.htm

      • mkbell

        Well, of course, the Catholics think so. :)
        The word chapel has also been used for Jewish chapels and general places for meditation and prayer in hospitals and airports. While I do not like the use of the word, I don’t think that by itself the word disqualify the space.

  • Bill

    How about a compromise. Let them put the chapel in and require each and every church to handle DMV renewals.

    • http://www.shockandblog.com/ Jay McHue

      Yes, because that makes so much rational sense.

  • islandbrewer

    And I assume they’re doing this because Oklahoma doesn’t have enough churches and chapels as it is, right now?

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    The room also could be used for storage or another purpose, he said.

    How about using it as a lecture hall for educational talks offered to the lay public, such as how the Constitution and the First Amendment work? Maybe even the Oklahoma legislators might sneak in and learn something.

    • http://www.shockandblog.com/ Jay McHue

      Yes, because we obviously know how the Constitution and the 1st Amendment work better than the men who actually crafted and ratified them — men who unabashedly opened the very first session of Congress with a prayer that invoked God/Jesus.

  • DJMankiwitz

    I are from this state… Yep…

    There’s also the ongoing attempts to discredit public education via a bizarre new testing paradigm.

    http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/state_edwatch/2013/11/school_accountability_war_in_okla_gets_hotter_as_gov_fallin_districts_squabble.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-TW

    Sooooo alright then.

  • bad_cook

    The easiest way for it to represent all Oklahomans would be to make it a chapel to our Weather Lord and Savior, Gary England. Maybe for the dissenters we can have a shrine in the corner to the Bedazzled Severe Weather Tie of Mike Morgan.

  • http://www.shockandblog.com/ Jay McHue

    Are you stupid or something, Hemant? Hospitals and other public institutions have included chapels for years without a single complaint from anyone. A chapel is not for the exclusive use of theists and you don’t have to have your “theist card” checked by a security guard before you enter. Atheists are fully welcome to use chapel spaces for a quiet place where they can reflect on things or read the latest anti-religious hate speech by people like you, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, et al.

  • http://www.shockandblog.com/ Jay McHue

    So why haven’t you anti-theists rallied to have this room removed from the nation’s Capitol?

    http://chaplain.house.gov/religion/prayer_room.html

    I mean, more than likely, this Oklahoma capitol chapel will be left quite bare of any mention of any specific religion, whereas the prayer room at the nation’s Capitol contains blatantly Christian themes.