Written by Don Byrd
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Oklahomans will vote soon on State Question 790. It is a referendum that asks voters to remove language from the Oklahoma Constitution commonly called a “no-aid” provision: it prohibits government from supporting churches or religious institutions with taxpayer money. The language can be found in many state constitutions, and it offers strong protections against church-state entanglements.
I asked BJC General Counsel Holly Hollman to provide a bit more insight on the provision and the issue facing voters. Here’s what she said:
State Question 790 seeks to delete an important pro-religious liberty provision from Oklahoma’s constitution that ensures the government will not interfere with or advance religion. It will not accomplish its intended purpose but threatens important religious safeguards currently in place. True religion flourishes when it is independent from the state. While Christians, Jews, and others often promote the teachings of the Ten Commandments, we should not rely on the government to do it for us. Oklahomans should reject this move toward blending the institutions of church and state and vote no on SQ 790.
So why would Oklahomans want to remove such an important religious liberty protection?
Proponents of SQ 790 claim there is a need for it, lamenting the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s 2015 decision disallowing a Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol. And, therefore, some are using this as an opportunity to bring up arguments about the Ten Commandments and religious displays, which we all saw a decade ago.
As the BJC says about religious displays on government property:
Regardless of the constitutional questions such cases raise, religious displays on government property also raise ethical and theological concerns. The debate is not about whether the Commandments teach sound theology or wholesome ethics. The question is, who is the right teacher: politicians or parents, public officials or pastors, government committees or families?
Holly Hollman’s 2005 column about the two Ten Commandments cases at that time addresses many of the arguments surrounding the Decalogue being made now.
And if people point out that the Ten Commandments appear inside the U.S. Supreme Court, be sure you know what that looks like: As part of a frieze located high in the courtroom, Moses is holding tablets in Hebrew, standing alongside images of many other lawgivers in history. (See photos and description of each lawmaker here)
Early voting in Oklahoma is Nov. 3-5, and Election Day is Nov. 8. I expect we will see this discussed even more between now and then. Stay tuned.