Oklahoma House Speaker Defends the Addition of a Chapel to the State Capitol Building

Last week, we learned that the Capitol building in Oklahoma, currently undergoing a renovation, would be adding a chapel to the second floor:

House Speaker T.W. Shannon (R-Lawton) was the architect of that addition:

Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon

At the time, Shannon’s spokesperson Joe Griffin tempered the outrage by saying the chapel wouldn’t be built if it was illegal:

“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.”

But, you know, that was a week ago.

Yesterday, Shannon wrote an op-ed for the Tulsa World explaining why the chapel deserved a spot in the Capitol building:

Recently, the idea of a chapel in the Oklahoma House of Representatives has been proposed. It would be a small, privately funded place that honors the rich history of faith and freedom in our state.

Fine print: Up yours, atheists.

It is deeply troubling that as soon as the idea of a chapel was put forward, the attacks began from those who wish to persecute and intimidate those who believe that God grants us our natural freedoms. Fringe groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union, bombarded the media with cries that a chapel would be unconstitutional. How could honoring the faith community and its contributions to our state be unconstitutional when we have already established that the preamble of Oklahoma’s Constitution evokes the name of Almighty God?

Because the U.S. Constitution says the government can’t establish or promote religion and it’s the rock to your scissors.

Oklahomans are a proud people of deep conviction and faith.

Except for the 12% of Oklahomans who aren’t religious. Whom Shannon prefers to ignore because facts contradict his rhetoric.

No serious argument can be made that a chapel “establishes” a state religion. If anything, a chapel would promote the “free exercise” of religion by those who work in and visit the people’s Capitol. Those who wish to exclude any display of faith from the public square are essentially attempting to twist the positive ideal of “freedom of religion” to mean “freedom from religious influence,” a notion that directly conflicts with the tradition of faith and virtue that has shaped our state and overrides the will of our people.

By that logic, we should build a shrine to atheism on the third floor and Shannon should have no problem with that. It’s just “free exercise,” after all, right?

Shannon is just begging for a lawsuit. His essay here is just evidence that he’s trying to promote religion through the government. If he believed it was legal, he wouldn’t have tried to secretly push the chapel blueprint through at the last second.

The comments section under his article, predictably, includes those who claim the opposition to his idea is steeped in racism.

(Thanks to Jarrett 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.

  • newenglandbob

    They should just call the room a reading room or a citizen’s meditation room or a people’s library.

  • A3Kr0n

    I wonder how much it cost the taxpayers for the architect to put that ink on the blueprints?

  • EdmondWherever

    They should just leave it as a court chamber, and pray in whatever room they’re in at the time they need to pray. There’s no need of a special room that one must travel to before one can pray.

  • Rob P

    The ACLU is a fringe group????????? Obviously Rep. Shannon is unfamiliar with all the cases that the ACLU won defending an individual’s religious liberties.

  • keddaw

    I thought they were supposed to have a private closet…

    “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

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

    Not to mention racial civil rights. The irony!

  • MN Atheist

    How about just build a “quiet room” where legislators and staff can go and reflect. Even put up religious stuff on the walls…who cares as long as everyone who wants a symbol gets a symbol…

  • SATXThinker

    Shannon writes, “the tradition of faith and virtue that … overrides the will of our people.” Faith overrides the will of the people. At least he got that part right.

  • Fallulah

    Next there will be special rooms for muslims to pray in 5 times a day…and then feet washing stations…it’s never ending. I bet the MURICANS wouldn’t be too open to those religious “expressions”.

  • Rob P

    Personally I think the whole “include everybody” solutions are really unworkable. I mean just consider the total number of religions in the world. Better the public places be kept religiously neutral with no religious symbols.

  • LesterBallard

    A chapel, a mosque, a shrine, pagodas, temples, everything.

  • Dave

    I have a better idea. Why don’t they use the space to build an office and do some work instead of sitting on their ass talking to their imaginary friend?

  • Tony37

    Are they short of houses of worship in Oklahoma City?

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    That was my reaction as well. The man does not seem to understand what a fringe group actually is.

  • Monaka der Hund

    The frothing-at-the-mouth culture war in the US never ceases to amaze me. The countries that I have lived in have nothing remotely similar. Let’s take an example, Germany, where I grew up and lived most of my life. Though the constitution guarantees religious freedom, there is no clear separation of church and state.

    - there is a chapel in the parliament
    - the state collects the church tax for the two big national church organisations (only if you are a member, of course)
    - some political rituals like state funerals or commemorations of our not so proud past involve priests or rabbis
    - the churches have representatives at the councils of the two public TV networks
    - in most federal states, religion is an optional subject at public school

    and so on.

    But, in Germany:

    - there are no billboards about a loving god or his (or her) absence
    - like in all other civilised nations, Christmas is mainly a shopping event
    - nobody would dream of adding creationism to the science curriculum. Actually, about 40 years of my life I lived in total ignorance that some people have a literal understanding of the bible.
    - school prayer in public schools is unheard of
    - Faith is pretty much absent from all political activity (exceptions above)
    - by and large, people get along, minding their own business when it comes to religion

    In short, we don’t spend much energy fighting for or against this or that god. This seems to be changing a bit with the increase of moslems in the country, but is nowhere near the US. Same for the other countries I have lived in. It baffles me that the world leader in many aspects like science and technology, even democracy to an extent, is so crazy about religious faith.

  • MN Atheist

    Exactly. In the end we would have a room without personal gods plastered everywhere and a quiet place for people to sit and think.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Based on what Shannon has written, he would flunk my 8th grade American History/Constitution class.

    But I think he already knows that it’s completely illegal and doomed to defeat. I think this is all for posturing and pandering to the religious right. He’s a Republican, but he has a rather obvious handicap in the eyes of the majority of people in Oklahoma who vote for Republicans. (See picture above.) I think he’s ambitious to climb the political ladder, and he needs every compensation he can find to get white Republicans to vote for “the black guy.” Even though the chapel will most likely not be built, he can boast about how he was the champion for God and the good Christian citizens of the great state of Oklahoma.

  • Rain

    Oklahomans are a proud people of deep conviction and faith.

    Brilliant. It doesn’t say how many or all Oklahomans, therefore it is completely relevant to something or other, and who knows what the hell it means. And who knows what its relevance is. The most brilliant statement of all time.

  • Chris

    This ticks me off, so I shared my discontent with the bastard.

  • Rain

    You can rest assured that it costs a lot, but not any more than was absolutely necessary. The contractors bid for the jobs, and there is no funny stuff involved whatsoever. Everything is completely aboveboard and cost efficient. We can all sleep well knowing that our money is well spent. Especially by Republicans who are conservative by nature.

  • Chris

    I live in the suburbs and have at least four churches within three miles of my house. So, I would think not.

    I brought up Yahoo maps and found there are actually six churches within three miles of my place.

  • Tony37

    Just what I suspected. I live outside of Reading, PA and there are 5 churches within a 1/4 of mile of my house. I prefer that religion be practiced in the homes and churches rather than public entities.

  • $925105

    Seeing the level of incompetence in the OK legislature I suppose they thought they needed divine help. Sorry OK, you’re only on this planet to make Kansas look good.

  • Jasper

    How could honoring the faith community and its contributions to our state be unconstitutional when we have already established that the preamble of Oklahoma’s Constitution evokes the name of Almighty God?

    Welp, another item to jot down on the todo list.

    “How can it be illegal for us to murder someone? Our State government does it all the time!

  • quasibaka

    I’d agree with this . More posturing and ‘championing’ the rights of the persecuted – the minority True Christians™
    The whole story is full of irony –
    black guy running for republican nomination ,
    promoting the very religion that enabled(in part at least) the persecution of african-americans ,
    his speech starting with “It is deeply troubling … ”
    Sigh ….

  • Dave The Sandman

    Love the way the good god bothering Liar For Jesus quotes the opening of the Oklahoma Constitution in his online application for membership of the Religulous Reich, yet fails to point out one of the bits that comes later and is, rather than a preamble, one of the actual Articles…………..

    Oklahoma Constitution Art. II: 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.”

    Lyin’ For Jeezus 101.

  • ahermit

    Here’s a handy link I like to pull out when the “ACLU is anti-Christian” card is played…


  • L.Long

    Its OK folks! Proud of their ability NOT to think but rely on modern solutions to come from a ancient book of BS and hearing voices in their heads.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, TOWAN

    going back, germany has fought not a few less famous wars over religion. it’s got a long history of settling religious questions in a very bloody fashion. comparatively, america is a young nation that has only fought one war with itself, where germany has fought several. i’m not saying i believe religious war is imminent or necessary in america, but it does make a difference, as a culture. and there’s nothing to say germany can’t become inflamed with religious agitation again; look at the growing “muslim question” in german society today. given the right political conditions, that could get more heated.

    america was founded by several groups who came here specifically because of their religions. we’re still growing out of that, as a nation.

  • 92JazzQueen .

    Oh, brother.

  • Little_Magpie

    and at least one representation of the FSM. (Yes, I know that technically falls under “everything”)