Overview:

Oklahoma religious belief protection legislation would criminalize teachers who in any way "oppose" any student's faith.

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Columnist’s note: My Monday essay titled “Hearing loss, failing eyesight, and the struggles we try to hide did not properly display temporarily but that glitch is now fixed. The correctly displayed article is accessible via the linked headline in this note.

The so-called Students’ Religious Belief Protection Act, introduced Feb. 8 in the Oklahoma state Senate (SB 1470), probably will never become law.

But that doesn’t make it any less ominous.

[S]uch a law would have a supremely chilling effect on every class from history to science to health.

faithfulamerican.com

Encouragingly, its only sponsor as of this writing was its introducer, Republican state Sen. Rob Standridge, who recently also submitted a separate piece of legislation to ban books from school libraries about LGBTQ subjects.

The knee-deep politics of intolerance is his bag, apparently.

“[A]nd [Sen. Standridge] does all of this while campaigning as someone ‘raised with strong Christian values,” according to a disparaging article Feb. 21 in FaithfulAmerican.com, a Christian website founded in 2004 ‘to challenge Christian nationalism and white supremacy and to renew the church’s prophetic role in building a more free and just society.’”

The proposed bill aims to make it illegal for any Oklahoma teacher who “promotes positions in the classroom or at any function of the public school that is in opposition to closely held religious beliefs of students.”

Good grief. Is Sen. Standridge serious or just trolling for votes in the Trump swamp?

Spaghetti monsters and Satanists

A Feb. 4 Forbes magazine article rhetorically wondered how such a vile, rogue genie, once liberated, might be put back in the bottle:

“The bill does not specify which particular ‘deeply help religious beliefs’ are covered, meaning that such a law would provide rich ground for groups like the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Satanic Temple, which have often challenged religious laws in this country.

“But such a law would have a supremely chilling effect on every class from history to science to health. The bill is designed to intimidate, and the law would result in administrators and teachers avoiding anything that could possibly cost them $10,000 or their job (average teacher pay in Oklahoma is $42,000).”

Obviously, this hasn’t deterred Sen. Standridge.

Anyone ultimately found guilty under the proposed law would face liabilities for “damages at a minimum of Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000.00) per incident, per individual,” according to the legislation, and “All persons found liable for damages shall make payment from personal resources and shall not receive any assistance from individuals or groups.” And if convicted persons are found to have obtained outside “assistance” to pay the penalty, they will be banned from employment in Oklahoma schools for five years.

A life ban from teaching in Oklahoma

In any event, as I interpret the bill, anyone convicted of the core offense—discussing on school grounds anything contrary to any student’s “closely-held religious beliefs”—will thereafter be slapped with a permanent prohibition from working or in any way being affiliated with a public school in this state,” according to the bill’s text.

And if all these draconian penalties aren’t hyperbolic enough, the bill claims “an emergency is hereby declared to exist” due to such supposed vast denigration of students’ religious beliefs (i.e., Christian beliefs) and that the bill must “take effect and be in full force” immediately upon passage.

As a nontheist, I cringe when I realize that what this is is an elected official trying to make it illegal to oppose any kid’s belief in unprovable, unfalsifiable notions of supernatural beings and realms. What if a student has a “deeply held belief” in voodoo? Or communication with dead people? Or mind-bending of spoons? Do those count?

No. Because, in fact, this is just a bald-faced attempt to privilege Christianity cloaked in legal form—a codified protection from any challenge to faith. Why? Because it’s just so upsetting to believers to have their beliefs opposed, much less fairly ridiculed.

What if numerology replaced science?

In fact, challenging all such forms of “received wisdom” is what a liberal education is supposed to be all about. What, for instance, if numerology were allowed to supplant or corrupt the science of mathematics? For one thing, we certainly would have had a really, really tough time making it to the moon or Mars without divine intervention.

Heaven save us (figuratively speaking) should we protect students from thinking deeply, which is the most important benefit of being challenged.

Writing for Forbes, education reporter Peter Greene warned that although Sen. Standridge’s bill “seems unlikely to become law” and is almost sure to face a court challenge if passed, it’s progressing apace in the Oklahoma Legislature. Recently it was referred to the Senate Education Committee for review.

What’s especially worrisome, Greene laments, is that the bill “is a sign of just how far some legislators feel empowered to go in attempts to control what teachers may or may not say in a classroom.”

Project Blitz wants to insinuate God in schools

Strikingly onerous is that this is just one element in a massive, years-long program by the Christian Right to remove every obstacle to insertion of Christianity in America’s schools, from Project Blitz to the legally authorized placement of “In God We Trust” signs in U.S. schools.

The end game of this strategy is to allow more and more Christianity to seep into American schools—and into the minds of school-age children—by removing the guardrails of church-state separation, rail by rail.

Ultimately, the goal is to have Christianity so ubiquitously embedded in education that it becomes normalized in “fact” and mind, the critical preludes to theocracy.

Rather than the Students’ Religious Belief Protection Act, this shady piece of legislation should more accurately be called the Students’ Unbelief Destruction Act. Ironically, instead of protecting anyone it endangers everyone with a gilded path to ignorance.

Let’s hope it dies soon in its sleep.

Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...