Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Oklahoma Legislature Making Life Hard for Catholics

Evidence is mounting that the GOP dominated Oklahoma state legislature has an agenda to officially establish a conservative, evangelical form of Christianity by force of law.

The religious right has had an active and vocal presence in politics since the 1970's when Oklahoma became the first state to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment. Now, nearly a generation later, the religious right in Oklahoma has the political clout in the legislature to pass any legislation that they want.

What kind of legislation have they passed?

Last year they passed some of the most stringent anti-immigrant legislation in the country. Since most of the undocumented aliens in Oklahoma have been Roman Catholics, they managed both to retard the growth of Catholic churches and reduce their attendance as immigrants left the state.

Also last year they passed legislation to erect a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the State Capitol. That monument has yet to be erected, but when it is unveiled it will most certainly chisel the Protestant Christian numbering of the commandments onto granite.

This year they are pushing legislation that will promote the teaching of a fundamentalist Protestant interpretation of the Bible as part of the public school curriculum. Senate Bill 1338 as submitted proposed allowing an objective and academic study of the Bible and made provision for teachers to be trained to follow constitutional safeguards regarding religious instruction within the public schools. Those provisions were stripped from the bill and replaced by a requirement that teachers use "the Christian Bible" and a curriculum prepared by the right-wing evangelical National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools (NCBCPS). The NCBCPS curriculum was considered unconstitutional in the case of Gibson v. Lee County School Board. It was declared unconstitutional because, among many other things, it openly belittles Catholic theology. The NCBCPS curriculum also uses the King James Version of the Bible that omits the Apocryphal books that are included in Catholic versions of the Bible.

Not long ago the NCBCPS curriculum was used in a Texas school district. It was subsequently challenged and then removed because of its unconstitutionality. That version of the NCBCPS characterized Roman Catholic beliefs in the transformation of communion bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ as "warped" thinking brought on by "mysticism." It also disputed the validity of the Apocryphal books of the Bible.

Clearly there is an agenda at the Oklahoma state capitol. It looks more and more like our elected leaders are determined to create the impression that persons of the Catholic faith, as well as all other persons of minority faith, are second class citizens.

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