Oklahoma House Repeals Church State Separation

In a futile attempt to return a Ten Commandments monument to the state Capitol, the Oklahoma House rejects the separation of church and state, passing a measure that could lead to the persecution of non-Christians.

House Joint Resolution 1062 repeals an article of the Oklahoma Constitution that preserves the separation of church and state by prohibiting the use of state funds to support religious activity.

The resolution was passed by the Oklahoma House of Representatives March 10 by a vote of 86-10, and removes a key section of the Oklahoma State Constitution that provides that “public money or property cannot be used directly or indirectly for any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion.”

The proposal to repeal Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution is an ill-conceived response to a 2015 state Supreme Court decision that resulted in the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from the Capitol grounds, a move that angered many conservative Christians in the state.

Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution currently reads:

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.

HJR 1062 seeks to abolish Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution.

Critics warn that changing the state constitution could have dire consequences, including the potential for expensive and unwinnable lawsuits, as well as the persecution of atheists, agnostics and other non-Christians.

In fact, the measure is so odious even some Christians are objecting.

Pastor Mitch Randall of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-affiliated NorthHaven Church in Norman said the repeal could lead back to an uglier time in Oklahoma history:

If successful, they will be taking a big step backwards in returning our state to a time when religious persecution was acceptable under Colonialism and Native Americans were forced to worship as those in authority dictated.

Ryan Kiesel, executive director ACLU of Oklahoma, said if passed, a constitutional change will not insulate the state from another lawsuit if the Ten Commandments monument comes back, noting:

That litigation would almost certainly cost the state money that it simply cannot and should not be spending on unnecessary litigation, especially given the fiscal crisis the state is facing right now.

The idea that by simply passing these measures and putting it up for a vote of the people, we somehow will have a lawful display of the Ten Commandments on Capitol grounds doesn’t hold water.

As originally written, HJR 1062 would have substituted the words “The Legislature shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” for Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution. However, the final version simply repeals the existing section, failing to make any attempt to preserve the separation of church and state.

HJR 1062 now goes to the Senate, which has approved a similar measure. If approved by the Senate, a state question will be submitted to the Secretary of State to be placed on the November 2016 ballot.

Oklahoma Capitol Building (Image via Wikimedia)
Oklahoma Capitol Building (Image via Wikimedia)
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