Almost two months ago we wrote Oklahoma May Become a Theocracy, in which we talked about State Question 790 — Oklahoma Public Money for Religious Purposes. It will be on the 08 November ballot in Oklahoma. If approved, State Question 790 would repeal Section 5 of Article 2 of the Oklahoma Constitution, which currently prohibits public money from being spent for religious purposes.
The state Constitutional provision which may be eradicated now says:
Article II: BILL OF RIGHTS, 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.
As we mentioned before, 38 states have such a provision in their constitutions. It wisely keeps preachers from attempting to grab taxpayers’ money to support their ministries. The Founders of the US were mostly in agreement that the official, government-endorsed religions of their states were an impediment to liberty. That was the motivation behind Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Oklahoma may throw that away, opening the floodgates to religious conflicts in the legislature.
We’ve been watching for press discussions of the issue. There haven’t been all that many, although some newspaper editorials have spoken out against State Question 790. We found something of interest today in Baptist News Global. We don’t know where they’re located, and they don’t have a comments feature. They don’t allow their content to be copied without permission, but they do allow a link to their articles along with a copy their first paragraph. We shall endeavor to comply.
Their headline is BJC’s Walker says Okla. ballot question poses danger to religious institutions, and their first paragraph says:
A Baptist expert on religious liberty termed a ballot initiative repealing Oklahoma’s prohibition against using state funds for religious purposes “a dangerous road” toward the intermingling of church and state.
From here on, we’ll describe the contents of their article, without quoting it. The “Baptist expert” they’re talking about is Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Wikipedia has a write-up on them. It says the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC) is an education and advocacy association in the United States with a number of Baptist denominations. Also:
The BJC restricts its activities to a small number of issues relating to religious liberty and the separation of church and state: church electioneering, civil religion, free exercise, government funding, political discourse, public prayer, and religious displays. On all of these issues, the organization supports a balanced approach that broadly interprets both the free exercise and no establishment clauses of the First Amendment.
Although the BJC works with 15 different Baptist organizations, that list doesn’t include the Southern Baptist Convention, a large creationist denomination. As we know, creationists seem to have an insatiable desire to exercise political power to legitimize their beliefs and have them taught in government-run schools.
Okay, back to the Baptist News Global article. It tells us that Walker thinks State Question 790 would be harmful. For example, if churches started receiving state funds, they could lose their exemption from laws that prohibit employment discrimination. Interesting, but we doubt that it will cause creationists to abandon their desire to control the state legislature.
There was once a time when Baptists were delighted with separation of church and state — but that was long ago, when they were a tiny denomination. Here’s a link to Jefferson’s famous 1802: Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists, which sets forth his understanding of the First Amendment. He wrote:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
Will all that be thrown away in Oklahoma? It depends on how organized and fanatical the creationists are in that state. We shall soon found out.
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