Why Oklahoma’s “Year of the Bible” Bill is Both Inappropriate and Wrong
It is good to know from whence your food and your legislation come. I’ve written previously about Project Blitz, which is now known as “Freedom for All.” Project Blitz/Freedom for All is an effort of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation to do for hot-button Christian Right religious issues what ALEC does for other matters: provide templates of bills that can be used in state legislatures to advance their agenda.
See this very helpful article by Frederick Clarkson, who is my “go-to” author, along with the New York Time’s Michelle Goldberg, on Christian Right legislative agendas. If you are reading about putting the “In God We Trust” motto in every public school, or limiting adoption to heterosexual couples, or authorizing the Ten Commandments to be installed on capitol grounds (regardless of how the second tablet is heeded by the supporting legislators, especially “do not bear false witness”), you are likely reading a story which includes efforts by Project Blitz/Freedom for All.
One such bill that makes me suspicious is a recent effort by an Oklahoma state senator, included below. This bill is about declaring 2020 to be “The Year of the Bible” in Oklahoma.
Here are my annotations on the bill and why I believe it should be opposed. Italics are my emphasis; the thoughts in brackets are my additions.
STATE OF OKLAHOMA
2nd Session of the 57th Legislature (2020)
SENATE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION 7 By: Nathan Dahm
WHEREAS, the Bible, the word of God, [Hold it! Right there, the bill moves from the historical importance of the Bible in American life to a faith claim—a faith claim on which the government per se must remain neutral.] has made a unique contribution in shaping the United States as a distinctive and blessed nation and people [a unique contribution, yes, for no other religion has dominated the people and the national narrative as Christianity has; but attributing national distinctiveness and blessing to the Bible—that is a borderline claim. If the claim is that America is blessed because of the importance (or is that lip-service, given the level of biblical ignorance in the population?) of the Bible here, that is another inappropriate claim in state legislation.]
WHEREAS, deeply held religious convictions springing from the Holy Scriptures led to the early settlement of our nation [Again, “Holy Scriptures” is not a term the government should use. And, while it is true that the Bible inspired some early colonists to seek a new life in America, not all colonies were founded for religious purposes.]; and
WHEREAS, Biblical teachings inspired concepts of civil government that are contained in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States [I’d like to know which concepts of civil government the author has in mind! The only one I know for sure is that James Madison was Presbyterian-educated and his teachers had a robust understanding of sin. The suspicion of concentrated power and the need to balance power with power in different government branches is certainly in the founding documents. But not the most heeded of restraints today! Overall, this “whereas” is a weak claim.]; and
WHEREAS, many of our great national leaders, among them Presidents Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, and Wilson, paid tribute to the surpassing influence of the Bible in our country’s development [Other than Lincoln who was more thoroughly shaped by the Bible than perhaps any other president, despite not being an orthodox Christian or a consistent church-goer, the other three presidents referenced the importance of the Bible, yes, but so what? Washington was a land speculator who became wealthy at that scheme, which included native people’s lands. Jackson used his military leadership and his elected office to take land from native peoples and then buy land cheaply, make money, and enslave. And Wilson, while a great thinker, also was a segregationist who loved the movie “Birth of a Nation” that glorified the beginnings of the KKK.]
WHEREAS, the history of our nation clearly illustrates the value of voluntarily applying the teachings of the Scriptures in the lives of individuals, families, and societies [I can agree with this, as long as the reading of scripture emphasizes how to be a good neighbor and includes ALL scriptures from the world’s religions—but I doubt this is what the author has in mind.]; and
WHEREAS, this state and nation now face great challenges that will test us as we have never been tested before [Oh, I agree with this one, mostly, and formally, rather than agreeing in what I suspect the author has in mind. The “mostly” is that the nation underwent a Civil War during which 600,000 persons died. That seems like a greater test than anything today—thus far. I suspect the bill’s author thinks the great challenges are presented by liberalism, while I think the great test is whether or not the nation can full the promises of liberty and justice for all, within a noisy and lively multicultural democracy that the world has not yet seen and from which the Christian Right and its elected allies are pulling strongly the other way.]; and
WHEREAS, renewing our knowledge of and faith in God through Holy Scripture can strengthen us as a state, nation and a people. [This is a faith statement, inappropriate in a state bill.] as in the words of President Jackson that the Bible is “the rock on which our Republic rests” [To repeat somewhat differently what I wrote above: this is an empty claim coming from one of the most immoral presidents in US history.];
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SENATE OF THE 2ND SESSION OF THE 57TH OKLAHOMA LEGISLATURE, THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES CONCURRING THEREIN:
That the Oklahoma Legislature hereby authorizes and requests the Governor, Executive branch and all subdivisions of this state to designate 2020 as the “Year of the Bible” in the State of Oklahoma in recognition of both the formative influence the Bible has been for our state, and our national need to study and apply the teachings of the Holy Scriptures. [Appropriate for a preacher/teacher within a religious congregation. Completely inappropriate in state legislation.]
I would recommend a substitute bill as one that is more appropriate for a state legislature and fitting for the Oklahoma that should be:
WHEREAS the Bible has exercised a unique shaping influence in American public life from colonial times through much of the 20th century, and
WHEREAS the US is now the most religiously diverse nation on earth, including communities of many faiths and persons adhering to no religious or spiritual tradition, and
WHEREAS Oklahoma represents a unique mix of indigenous cultures whose very way of life is spiritual/religious,
WHEREAS understanding and appreciating how religion shapes personal meaning and the moral order of communities (including how those communities believe that the US should reflect their understanding of moral order) can contribute to fulfilling America’s promises of equality, liberty, opportunity, and justice for all, and
WHEREAS in the words of a great scholar, [whoever] knows one [religion], knows none,
THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Oklahoma legislature encourages that the sacred literature of Oklahoma’s religious communities be studied in public schools, because of the increasing need to understand many religious traditions and in order that citizens of Oklahoma can be good neighbors to one another and work together for a more equal, just, and compassionate society in Oklahoma.
Photo Credit: Pastor Robert https://www.flickr.com/photos/129529998@N05/
Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)