Harming Religious Freedom: For Some Oklahoma Senators, It’s As Easy As 1, 2, 3

Within 15 minutes it was done: The Oklahoma Senate Judiciary Committee voted to pass three extreme bills yesterday – with no debate. The first bill would allow prayer in public schools (SB 450), the second would make the state’s law requiring parental consent for a minor to receive abortion care even more severe (SB 753) and the third would gut the state’s civil rights laws by allowing a range of individuals and businesses to discriminate as long as it’s based on a sincerely held religious belief (SB 197). It was as easy as 1, 2, 3.

All three of these bills raise constitutional concerns. Here’s a rundown of the first and third, both of which directly harm religious freedom.

Senate Bill 450

SB 450 purports to protect students from being discriminated against because of their religious views. But a quick review of its provisions reveal that it is just a ruse to instigate prayer in Oklahoma’s public schools.

The measure would prohibit school districts from restricting what it calls a student’s “voluntary religious expression in the classroom.” Under this bill, students could claim a right to proselytize fellow classmates during class and schools would have to allow students to deliver morning announcements and introduce varsity football games and any other school function “from a religious viewpoint.” No matter how the bill describes school prayer, it’s still school prayer.

Religious freedom is a fundamental American value. Forcing prayer upon public-school students violates this freedom and make students who practice their faith differently from the majority, who adhere to minority faiths or who are non-theists feel like outsiders.

Some Oklahoma senators want to introduce more prayer in public schools.

Senate Bill 197

SB 197 is called the “Oklahoma Right of Conscience Act,” but is really about discrimination. It would allow individuals, for-profit corporations, government contractors and even government officials to refuse to serve their fellow Oklahomans if doing so would be contrary to their “sincerely held religious beliefs or conscience … regarding marriage, lifestyle or behavior.”

You read that right: This bill provides creates a black hole in state and local non-discrimination laws. As long as the discrimination is based in religious views, no other state laws will apply.

This bill, based on deceptively named First Amendment Defense Acts, goes far beyond any others we’ve seen. Here’s just a few examples of the discrimination people could face. It would allow a hotel operator to refuse to rent a room to a married woman traveling alone for work if he believed married women should not be employed outside of the home. A judge could refuse to sign a marriage license for a couple because they did not attend church every Sunday. This bill would even allow a restaurant to refuse to host an interfaith couple’s wedding because of the restaurateur’s religious objections to the couple’s union.

Religious freedom guarantees us all the freedom to believe or not as we see fit, but it does not give individuals and businesses the right to ignore laws that prohibit discrimination. This bill flies in the face of real religious freedom.

These are sweeping bills that undercut the rights of all Oklahomans, provide cover for discrimination by the government and violate the Constitution’s well-established protections for religious freedom. It’s amazing that these Oklahoma Senators could so easily pass them. Just 1, 2, 3.