Disband religion-pandering committee, FFRF urges Okla. education superintendent

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation is strenuously objecting to the Oklahoma state superintendent of public instruction’s recent political prostration before religious ministers.

Superintendent Ryan Walters received a letter from several Oklahoma Christian leaders instructing him to use the Department of Education to push prayer and “expressions of faith in God” onto Oklahoma’s students. The letter misrepresented the role of religion in our nation’s founding and concluded with a request that Walters form “an advisory group to study the issue of allowing corporate prayer and the acknowledgement of God in our classrooms and make recommendations.” 

Rather than ignoring this letter, which advocates for state interference with the private rights of conscience of Oklahoma’s public school students, Walters has instead misguidedly announced the formation of a committee to “advise and recommend guidance to local school systems on how to protect every student and parents’ freedom to worship.” 

The best way for Walters to protect religious liberty, FFRF points out, is for Superintendent Walters to adhere to his oath of office to “support, obey, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the state of Oklahoma.”

“The framers of our secular Constitution deliberately and purposefully invested sovereignty not in a deity, but in ‘We the People,’” FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor write to Walters. “They adopted a Bill of Rights whose First Amendment separates religion from government. Furthermore, the Oklahoma state Constitution provides for the ‘establishment and maintenance of a system of public schools, which shall be open to all the children of the state and free from sectarian control.'” [Italics added.]

More than 60 years of firm Supreme Court precedent disallows “corporate prayer” being hosted and scheduled by public school officials, and other forms of indoctrination in our public schools, FFRF emphasizes. 

Walters’ announcement comes shortly after Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond recently corrected a similar religious push by the state’s previous Attorney General John O’Connor, who issued an egregious opinion advising the Virtual Charter School Board to violate the state Constitution’s ban on funding religious schools. Drummond rightly noted: “The opinion as issued by my predecessor misuses the concept of religious liberty by employing it as a means to justify state-funded religion.”

State education exists to cultivate the minds of young students and promote independent thinking, in short to educate, not indoctrinate. Studying the best ways to impose prayer and religious exercise on students particularly stigmatizes and alienates nonreligious students. Almost one-third of U.S. adults (29 percent) are “Nones” (atheists, agnostics or religiously unaffiliated).  Research is showing a much higher percentage of unaffiliated among younger Americans, with 48 percent of Gen Z identified as “Nones,” outnumbering the 36 percent of Gen Z who are Christians.

FFRF is urging Walters to immediately disband his unconstitutional committee and not make any attempts to study or recommend how to impose Christian prayer on public school students. 

“Oklahoma’s education officials need to focus on spreading good education and not sanctimonious piety,” add Barker and Gaylor. 

You can read the full FFRF letter here.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country, including hundreds of members in Oklahoma. FFRF protects the constitutional separation between state and church and educates about nontheism. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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