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Conventional Thinking: A monumental state question

This November, Oklahoma voters will consider a number of state questions on topics including the death penalty, prison sentencing reform, alcohol laws, as well as a sales tax hike for education. One state question that has not been discussed as much as others is State Question 790.

SQ 790 says: “This measure would remove Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution, which prohibits the government from using public money or property for the direct or indirect benefit of any religion or religious institution. Article 2, Section 5 has been interpreted by the Oklahoma court as requiring the removal of a 10 Commandments monument from the grounds of the State Capitol. If this measure repealing Article 2, Section 5 is passed, the government would still be required to comply with the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, which is a similar constitutional provision that prevents the government from endorsing a religion or becoming overly involved with religion.”

Did you hear that? This state question would eliminate the phrase in the Oklahoma State Constitution that was the basis for the Oklahoma State Supreme Court’s order to remove the privately-funded 10 Commandments Monument from State Capitol grounds last year.

To put it as succinctly as possible, if you thought the 10 Commandments Monument should have been allowed to stay, vote “yes” on SQ 790. If you thought the monument should leave, vote “no.”

Though this is an accurate way to think of the issue, we must admit there is more going on here. The state question would effectively remove what’s known as the Blaine Amendment from Oklahoma’s State Constitution.

The Blaine Amendment refers to a series of laws passed among various states in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and is named after Congressman James Blaine (1830-1893). The laws are now understood to have been motivated by anti-Catholic sentiments at the time, as a way to prevent public monies from helping any educational or charitable endeavors of Catholic ties.

sq790

For the most part, the Blaine Amendment is considered outmoded and outdated and unnecessary since the First Amendment would protect against government-sponsored religion. Every now and then, though, the Amendment is used as the legal basis to toss out religiously-based efforts that activists judges do not like, such as what we saw in the 2015 Prescott v. Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission vote that removed the 10 Commandments.

It’s not only about monuments, though. An analysis of SQ 790 shows that Blaine Amendments could be (and have been) cited to block things like Christmas displays, other religious symbols in public, public displays of faith in public schools, church daycares, faith-based medical services, charitable relief and roadside memorials. Theoretically, through Blaine, the ACLU could even get its wish to remove the phrase “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.

These affronts to religious liberty are not just scare tactics to get people to vote a certain way. The affronts to religious liberty and historic expressions of faith such as the example of the 10 Commandments, which have been the bedrock of our society, are real and are happening.

So what will we do about it? As Christians in America, we must speak forth and vote. While we have spent so much time analyzing the presidential election, let’s not miss an opportunity to purge our state’s constitution of a disreputable law and also shore up religious liberty in Oklahoma.

Brian Hobbs

Author: Brian Hobbs

Brian is editor of The Baptist Messenger.

View more articles by Brian Hobbs.

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  • Monty Thompson

    I am a pastor of a small community which has a small school just down the street. My Representative tells me a “yes” vote on 790 would allow school vouchers from the federal government which in turn will “decimate” my local public school. What are the unintended consequences for our public schools if this question is passed? If school vouchers are legalized and parents can use them to take their children to private schools and or to get $6000.00 per year to keep them home, is this harmful to our small local schools?

    • Brian Hobbs

      Bro. Monty…
      Thanks for posting this comment and bringing up an important issue. The stated purpose of SQ790 is to remove the Blane Amendment, which is outdated and unnecessary and has become a tool in the hands of foes of religious liberty and religious expressions in public (as we saw with the removal of the 10 Commandments public display last year).
      The fact is there is no tangible evidence to show that SQ790 would hinder public schools in any way. About vouchers or any school choice measure, as is the case this very moment, that is handled through the state legislature, in which your Rep and constituents would have a say. You asked about unintended consequences. Because of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (the Establishment Clause), there is no room for state-sponsored religion.
      While I respect differing viewpoints on the issue of this State Question, I agree with the leaders who have spoken in favor of SQ 790, like Sen. James Lankford, Dr. Anthony Jordan, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb and Archbishop Paul Coakley; and I disagree with leading groups who have spoken against it, like the ACLU.
      In the end, it’s up to Oklahoma voters to decide where they stand on the issue. Thanks again for posting comments on an important issue…

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