FFRF issues open letter to bullying Okla. Supt. Ryan Walters: Resign

Screen shot of social media posts between FFRF and Ryan Walters

Dear Superintendent Walters:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation will not back down in the face of your grandstanding and (mis)use of your office to undermine Oklahoma’s secular educational system and otherwise impose your personal, pernicious Christian nationalist viewpoint on Oklahoma’s citizens.

You have attacked FFRF by name, manipulatively claiming our state/church watchdog — which works to defend the constitutional principles inscribed in the First Amendment of our Bill of Rights and Article 1 of the Oklahoma state Constitution — seeks to take away the religious freedom of Oklahoma students. Further, you ridiculously claim our group is “funded by George Soros.” We wish that were true. Clearly, you are invoking Soros’ name as an anti-Semitic trope and conspiratorial dog whistle aimed at your radical followers. For shame.

We have written you countless letters in recent months over your various outrageous statements and actions. These include calling for the promotion of Christianity and the Ten Commandments in every classroom. When the Tulsa school board correctly prohibited a school board member from imposing prayer on students at their graduation, you threatened to retaliate against the school district by removing accreditation. You’ve used your office to promote culture war tropes, including scapegoating and targeting atheism, continually claiming there is such a thing in Oklahoma as “state-sponsored atheism.” You’ve promoted a religion-pandering committee suggested by several Oklahoma Christian leaders demanding that you use the Department of Education to push prayer and “expressions of faith in God” into Oklahoma students. You irresponsibly published a video through your office calling on Oklahoma public schools to ban 190 books, which happen to be on the American Library Association’s Rainbow Book List, even claiming such books contain “graphic pornography.” You then suggested public school students should instead be taught from the Christian bible. Most egregiously of all, you have used your office to throw your support for establishing the first publicly funded religious charter school in the nation, a scheme that FFRF is challenging in court.

However many letters we write, superintendent, even though you are constitutionally obligated to oversee public education in the state of Oklahoma, you have shown yourself to be uneducable. You appear to consider that the purpose of your office is not to help secular public education, but to destroy it.

You regularly misuse the official governmental social media afforded to your public office and treat it as a pulpit from which to preach your personal religious views and Christian nationalist propaganda. Notably, this includes your statement on X (formerly Twitter) yesterday, Nov. 28, in which you stated: “People of faith will never be bullied.” You attached a vainglorious video of yourself, seated in your official office, with a U.S. and an Oklahoma flag behind you, that attacked  the Freedom From Religion Foundation and attempted to interfere in a constitutional complaint brought by FFRF regarding a violation in Prague, Okla., schools.

First, as the Oklahoma state superintendent of public instruction you are tasked with defending the rights of all Oklahomans, not just “people of faith.”

Second, Prague public school officials did the correct thing when FFRF brought this clear violation to their attention and took steps to end it. Now you seek to sabotage this remedy and use it to publicize and further your political Christian nationalist agenda.

You stated in your video message:

Today, we see Prague public schools backing down to a radical atheist group. You know, we’re going to continue to fight for religious liberty and religious freedom here in the state of Oklahoma. What we’ve seen is a group that’s funded by George Soros, atheists, that is from out of state, that has come in and targeted children that are initiating prayer in Prague public schools. Just as bad, we have Prague public schools bowing down to these bullies and telling their students that they’re not going to allow them to initiate prayer.

It’s outrageous. We have to take a stand for our students’ freedom of religion, their freedom to express their religious beliefs, no matter what those religious beliefs may be. So what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to tell groups like the Freedom From Religion group, like the ACLU, we will never back down to your bullying antics. We will not allow atheism to be the state-sponsored religion of our school system, not here in Oklahoma. You guys need to leave our kids alone. We will not stand for it and we will continue to fight for religious liberty here in the state of Oklahoma.

Superintendent, unlike yourself, FFRF is concerned about the rights of conscience of ALL schoolchildren, not just children whose parents are Christian. The constitutional violation FFRF halted in Prague was egregious. Prague Elementary School had been hosting daily prayers during its broadcast announcements, even going so far as to post over the Prague Public Schools Facebook page the full names and photos of these very young children who supposedly had “asked if they could pray.”

We reminded the Prague Public Schools that more than 60 years of clear Supreme Court precedent bars public schools from initiating, leading or broadcasting prayer, specifically including so-called “student-led prayer,” which clearly cannot apply to an elementary school serving 5- to 11-year-olds. It is just as clear that the school had inaugurated this unconstitutional practice and had done everything it could to encourage a captive audience of very young and impressionable students to participate in the practice.

To the credit of the district’s legal counsel, this clearly coercive and inappropriate practice was discontinued.

Yet, you have once again set out to interfere with and target school districts that do the right thing and end such constitutional violations. You deliberately stir up divisiveness and acrimony against them and flout your constitutional duties. As we have noted in past letters, it is plain that you are concerned only with advancing a Christian nationalist agenda that is antithetical to American values, rather than performing the duties of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. You are manifestly unfit to continue to serve in this role.

Your disregard for your constitutional duties and your flagrant political posturing are a disgrace to your office, and we once again renew our call for you to resign immediately.

Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor
Freedom From Religion Foundation

If you are an FFRF member, sign into your account here and then update your email subscriptions here.

To become an FFRF member, click here. To learn more about FFRF, request information here.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend