May 2023 Church & State Magazine - May 2023

Okla. Legislator Cites Bible In Debate Over Corporal Punishment In Schools

 

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

The issue arose in the Sooner State in March after 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.”

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.”

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’s bill needed 51 votes to pass but initially fell short, garnering only 45 votes in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. But the matter captured unflattering 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 still needs to pass the state Senate.

On its “Wall of Separation” blog, Americans United noted, “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.”

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