Religious Minorities

Okla. Legislators Quote Bible Passages During Debate Over Corporal Punishment For Disabled Students

  Rob Boston

An effort to end the use of corporal punishment against disabled and special-needs students in Oklahoma initially failed, in part because legislators argued that spanking children is called for in the Bible.

State Rep. John Talley (R-Stillwater) introduced the legislation, arguing that using physical force on children with disabilities “does not belong in the classroom” and that “accountability and grace go hand in hand.”

The Bible Tells Me So?

But other lawmakers, notably state Rep. Jim Olsen (R-Roland), insisted that the practice should be allowed; Olsen cited Bible passages to buttress his view.

“Several scriptures could be read here,” Olsen said. “Let me read just one, Proverbs 29: ‘The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.’ So that would seem to endorse the use of corporal punishment.”

Talley, an ordained minister, responded that Americans don’t abide by most of the laws in the Bible.

“Why don’t we follow all the other Old Testament laws?” he asked. “There’s about 4,000 of them, and one of them is to not allow wives to wear jewelry or stone your child if they’re disobedient. Why don’t we do that? Because we pick and choose what we want to follow.”

An Insightful Tweet

State Rep. Mickey Dollens (D-Oklahoma City) also cut right to the heart of the matter, tweeting, “For my colleagues who said they could not vote in favor of prohibiting hitting disabled children because they felt like they were voting against the Bible, I would like to remind you that our job is to serve the people we represent, not to adhere to religious doctrine.”

Talley and Dollens could have added that we don’t follow religious dictates because the United States is a secular republic, not a theocracy. Our laws should be based not on how someone interprets the Bible but on non-religious rationales that respect the rights of all. The Bible – and other religious books – don’t govern American law.

Talley’s bill needed 51 votes to pass, but it fell short, garnering only 45 votes in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. But the matter captured national attention, and this apparently led some lawmakers to reconsider. Talley was able to use a procedural maneuver to schedule a new vote. This time, the measure passed the House 84-8; it now goes to the state Senate.

If the bill fails there, it will mean that disabled and special-needs youngsters in Oklahoma will continue to face the threat of physical assault by adults in school – they’ll be subjected to pain in an effort to control their behavior – all because of the way some people read the Bible.

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. It would be a positively medieval result.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

Act Now