FFRF corrects Okla. rep’s fallacious state/church claims

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is correcting a slate of ahistorical claims promoting Christian Nationalism made by Oklahoma state Rep. Jay Steagall.

Recently, Steagall argued in favor of Oklahoma H.B. 3817, a proposal to place the phrase “In God We Trust” on all state buildings because, he alleges, “Our government is based on the idea that our inalienable rights are granted to us by our creator. It is impossible to separate church from state. And our Founders said we should not do that, actually.” Steagall argued that “the proof was on the money in everyone’s pockets and purses.”

FFRF has written a letter to Steagall addressing these harmful and erroneous claims based on a profound lack of historical knowledge.

“In God We Trust” did not become the national motto until 1956, FFRF points out. The phrase was also added to paper money in the 1950s — as well as the insertion of “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance — all as part of the “Red Scare” in an attempt to unify the country under a religious banner to oppose the perceived threat of “godless” communists.

“These efforts, undertaken more than 150 years after the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights were ratified, were and are antithetical to the Founders’ adamant intent that the United States maintain a secular government in order to protect religious freedom in a pluralistic society,” FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne writes to Steagall. “Pointing to the actions of theocratic politicians in the 1950s as ‘proof’ of the intent of the 18th century Founders is nonsensical.”

Steagall also claimed in his testimony that the phrase “endowed by their Creator” in the Declaration of Independence serves as additional proof of his dubious beliefs.

FFRF reminds the representative that the Declaration of Independence is not the basis of our government. Rather, the U.S. Constitution — which is devoid of any reference to religion other than the deliberate exclusion of religion from government — is the basis of our secular government.

Steagall would do well, FFRF advises, to remember that he represents all Oklahomans, of all religious beliefs and none at all. Today, more than one-quarter of Americans, 26 percent, are religiously unaffiliated. This rate is even higher among young Americans. A recent survey found that 21 percent of Americans born after 1999 are atheist or agnostic.

“Telling these Oklahomans that they should trust in a god that they do not believe in sends a message that they are outsiders in their own community,” Jayne adds.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 30,000 members across the country, including in Oklahoma. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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