My Response to the Lankford/Lamb Editorial On SQ790

Lankford LambElection season brings out the worst in many of us. Oklahoma is certainly no exception – which is somewhat ironic, given that historically only about four people in the entire state actually bother to vote most years. 

This election, though, there’s an unusually high number of contested seats in the state legislature. The “teacher caucus” has made national news. Spittle – both literal and figurative – has been flinging all ‘bouts. 

And then there’s those state questions! My god, there must be eleventeen hundred of them! The penny sales tax for education is probably the most controversial, but coming in a close second is SQ790 – repeal of the Blaine Amendment. This one has been a long time coming, and emotions are high on both sides. 

It’s possible there are rational arguments to be made for repealing Article II, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution. I’m not sure what they’d be, but surely they exist. One place you will not find them is in the recent editorial by Senator James Lankford and Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb. It first appeared in the Tulsa World late last week, and is now making the rounds on Facebook via something called the Baptist Messenger

If this organization is indeed associated with Baptists proper, that’s a shame. Jefferson’s famous letter coining the phrase “wall of separation between church and state” was written in response to Baptist concerns that the new Constitution didn’t do enough to keep government out of their religious business. 

This editorial makes a wonderful study in reading with your brain on. Let’s take a gander, shall we?

On Nov. 8, by voting Yes on State Question 790, Oklahomans will have the chance to directly increase their religious freedom, a rare opportunity in this age when liberal courts and governments are actively seeking to narrow religious liberties.

Definitions are everything in socio-political debate. Most Americans, for example, are big fans of “fairness,” “accountability,” or “equality.” The difficulty comes when we have to decide what exactly those things mean in practice – suddenly my idea of “fair” and your idea of “fair” can crash into one another rather unpleasantly.  

Lankford/Lamb open their editorial with the bold assertion that “religious freedom” is in danger, and that more government spending on religious symbols is the solution. I’m not clear on what they base their conviction that religious liberty is being “narrowed” – it’s difficult to imagine a time in American History when an individual was more free to believe (or not) pretty much anything they chose, and to act on it with greater latitude. 

Unless, of course, you assume “narrowing religious liberties” means something very different – for example, “chipping away at the privileged positions certain flavors of Christianity have held for centuries.” If you define “increasing religious freedom” as “reducing the religious freedoms of others”, this assertion suddenly makes sense. Of course we’re seeing “narrowed” religious liberties – because religious liberty is being dramatically expanded for people who are not us. Ours feels smaller in comparison. 

The Blaine Amendment prevents government from taking my money to promote your religious ideas. Only by defining “religious freedom” as “using political power to prop up selected beliefs” does the argument that eliminating Blaine will increase anyone’s “liberty” make any sense.  

We support SQ 790 because it would remove from Oklahoma’s Constitution the “Blaine Amendment” a provision added in the 19th century during a time of anti-Catholic prejudice for the primary purpose of preventing Catholic schools – and Catholic orphanages, hospitals and charities – from receiving any government benefits.

This is technically and historically correct. But are Lankford/Lamb seriously suggesting that Oklahoma – over a century later – has been oppressing Catholics? Or are they suggesting we go back through every statute and amendment since ratification and weed out those whose motives may have been misguided or whose original purpose is outdated?

Seems like if we’re going to urgently push a “solution,” there should be a problem somewhere to which we can attach it. Bring forth the state-abused Catholics of 2016, please!

These provisions, were at one time present in the Constitutions of nearly every state, and their history steeped in bigotry has never been in dispute. As the United States Supreme Court noted in Mitchell v. Helms (2000), Blaine Amendments have a “shameful pedigree” rooted in “pervasive hostility to the Catholic Church and to Catholics in general.”

The Republican Senator from Oklahoma, who enthusiastically supports Donald Trump for President, is heartbroken over our history of theoretical bigotry - so much so that he’s quoting Supreme Court decisions to add some completely irrelevant color. 

Blaine hasn’t changed in over a century, and no one’s discriminated against Catholics as a result. That’s an awful lot of emotion over a problem no one’s even pretending actually exists. 

Over time, these provisions have gone beyond bigotry against Catholics and been used to curtail religious freedom of all kinds. 

What a setup! Over time, they tell us, things have gotten SO much worse!  Blaine has been used to curtail religious freedoms of ALL KINDS! So many kinds. All the kinds. Kinds above and beyond that theoretical Catholic thing that never actually happened.  

For example…

Oklahoma’s Blaine Amendment was cited by the state Supreme Court in 2015 when it ruled that the provision prohibited the display of a Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol, even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Van Orden v. Perry (2005) that a display of Ten Commandments on public property does not necessarily violate the U.S. Constitution.

That’s the entire list of curtailed religious freedoms. One thing. THEY WOULDN’T LET US HAVE OUR STATUE EXACTLY WHERE WE WANTED IT AND WE HAD TO MOVE IT, LIKE, NINETY FEET!

That must have been horrible for them, this long list of curtailed freedoms they’ve had to endure. 

Lankford/Lamb neglect to mention that on the exact same day the Court announced its decision in Van Orden, it also announced the results of McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky (2005) - a very similar case in which displays of the Commandments on government property were found to be unconstitutional. McCreary was just as big as the Texas case, and its circumstances far more similar to those unfolding in Oklahoma. It’s just that in this other major case about the exact same issue, the Court refuted the idea that states can go around throwing up religious statues just to make a point.  

Lankford/Lamb know this. It’s not hidden knowledge available only to the Illuminati or anything. They chose to lie via omission in order to pretend their argument is stronger than it is. Both men are successful politicians – they count on the ignorance of the masses for their livelihood. Perhaps if they’re so concerned about the survival of their faith, though, they could help it out by not using deception and half-truths just to get their way?   

Under our state Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Blaine Amendment, hundreds of millions of state and federal dollars being expended annually for Medicaid patients at nonprofit but religious-based hospitals are being spent in violation of our state Constitution. 

Read that again. 

As currently applied, they write, the Blaine Amendment – which has been part of our state constitution since statehood – has caused absolutely no problems for Medicaid patients or religious-based hospitals. But if the state Supreme Court ever chose to inexplicably challenge these non-problems, and declared a bunch of stuff unconstitutional, then OMG – a bunch of other stuff would then be unconstitutional! 

Also, Medicaid! Grandma – did you hear that? Old people, panic!

If read too broadly, church groups could even be prohibited from using state parks, engaging in after-school tutoring, helping solve our foster care crisis, working with prison ministries and a myriad of other partnerships which benefit the state.

“If this section of the Constitution were read incorrectly, it might even lead to a host of other theoretical problems which have never happened here or anywhere else as a result of the Blaine Amendment.”

Well, yes. It would also be bad if mom accidentally used human blood instead of ketchup next time she makes meatloaf, so maybe we should outlaw the Red Cross while we’re solving potential problems that will probably never happen.  

Or am I reading their editorial “too broadly”?

Not only does our Blaine Amendment prohibit the display of the Ten Commandments on public property – but it also prohibits parents from making decisions about their children’s education that they believe are best. 

Ah, here we go. It took several paragraphs of balderdash and faux crises, but they finally got to… vouchers. 

If you want to make the voucher argument, that’s fine. I’ve written about them several times, as have numerous others smarter than me. But of all the folks who argue in favor of spending public money to resegregate our schools by race and socio-economic status, none have buried their case so deeply in deception and demagoguery as Lankford/Lamb here. 

It’s really quite horrifying. Unless I’m reading it too broadly. 

It has been used for lawsuits aimed at stopping parents of special needs students from using state scholarships to better educate their children. 

This fabricated image of high-needs kids presenting their golden voucher to Word-of-Faith-of-Hope-of-Grace and finding the acceptance and attention they’ve so long been denied is complete nonsense. But again – the whole voucher argument is well-trod territory elsewhere. 

For now, the weird reality is that Lankford/Lamb are arguing that the constitution as it currently stands has been determined by the courts to be totally fine the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship to which they refer. They won that case without changing the constitution. 

They’re demanding a change to the constitution because what if the case had been decided differently – like if it were heard on Opposite Day? Wouldn’t that have been unfortunate?

If a student used this as a supporting argument in class, I’d circle it in red pen and tell them not to make their opponent’s case for them. 

It has been used in other states to stop Education Savings Accounts programs which help those stuck in poverty take advantage of educational opportunities. 

Such as… where? The lovely community of Theoryville? 

And it has been used to try to prohibit even student-led prayers before high school sporting events.

Oh please. 

Yeah, I’m sure there’s a story somewhere in which this almost kind of happened. Thanks to the internet, you can find examples of pretty much anything. But seriously? It’s been “used to try to prevent” student-led prayer? 

In other words, it didn’t prevent student-led prayer?   

Another enormous peril based on what mighta-coulda-happened-this-once but didn’t because unfortunately, everything’s working just the way it’s supposed to, constitutionally speaking.

They’ve saved the best for last:

Like the “Jim Crow” laws that promoted segregation, the Blaine Amendment is a discriminatory provision in our Constitution that flies in the face of many of the Oklahoma values we cherish – love of neighbor, reverence for humanity and respect for the right to express religious freedom.

Jim. Crow. Laws.

The Blaine Amendment is like Jim Crow Laws. 

We can’t have our statue where we want it and we have to pay for our own kids’ schooling if we want them in church school. In the world of Lankford/Lamb, they are experiencing almost EXACTLY what happened to Blacks for a century after the Civil War – segregation, second-class citizenship, denial of the right to vote, sharecropping, poverty, cross-burning, and lynching. 

But the white privilege version. The one with happier music and no actual suffering of any kind

And by the way… if you can’t “love your neighbor” without altering the state constitution, you're doing it wrong. 

Our hope is that Oklahomans will exercise their compassion for others

Well, their compassion for us, at least. The rich white evangelical males suffering from Jim Crow. Or am I reading that too broadly?

and expand religious freedom for everyone

Again - definitions, people!

on Nov. 8 by voting “Yes” on SQ 790.

You should be offended that two such prominent and powerful Oklahomans consider you – and your faith – unworthy of a more honest or thoughtful argument. 

Comments

U.S. Senator James Lankford and OK Lt. Governor Todd Lamb are encouraging Oklahomans to vote for SQ 790 because it repeals a Blaine Amendment inserted in the OK State Constitution in 1907. This proves that they are woefully ignorant about the issue they are supporting. Had they bothered to read the State Supreme Court decision that SQ 390 is trying to reverse, they would know that even the justices who dissented from the decision agreed that the language of the article in question had nothing to do with the Blaine Amendment. Here is a quote from Justice Combs dissenting opinion in the decision to deny the petition for a rehearing:

"¶11 Although initially raised on appeal in the Appellee's answer brief, on rehearing the parties did not brief the issue of whether Okla. Const. art. 2, § 5 is a state Blaine Amendment; however, other Justices of this Court have addressed this issue. The Blaine Amendment was a failed 1870's proposed amendment to the United States Constitution to bar aid to sectarian institutions. Mitchell v. Helms, 530 U.S. 793, 828 (2000). The proposed amendment "arose at a time of pervasive hostility to the Catholic Church. and it was an open secret that 'sectarian' was code for 'Catholic'. Mitchell, 530 U.S. at 828. This amendment would have applied almost exclusively to Catholic parochial schools. Id. at 829. The Appellee had previously cited a 2003 law review article written by Mark E. DeForrest, for the purpose of demonstrating, after the Blaine Amendment's failure, states adopted similar provisions in their own constitutions.15

¶12 The parties have not cited any decision of this Court where we have referred to Okla. Const. art. 2, § 5 as an Oklahoma version of the Blaine Amendment or construed it so narrowly to only apply to sectarian institutions, or in other words, parochial schools. On this issue I would agree with the other Justices of this Court that Okla. Const. art. 2, § 5 is not Oklahoma's version of a Blaine Amendment. The breadth and scope of Okla. Const. art. 2, § 5 differ significantly from the failed Blaine Amendment."

Don't take my word for this. See for yourself. Here's a link to the OK Supreme's decision: http://www.oscn.net/applications/oscn/DeliverDocument.asp?CiteID=476438

This purely partisan political position espoused by Mr. Langford and Mr. Lamb is full of issues and problems. My "NO" vote next Tuesday has absolutely nothing to do with not insuring religious liberty for our state, and everything to do with being a responsible Christian citizen of our great state. The editorial comments of these gentlemen are misleading at best, and clearly intended to appeal to the emotions of Christians, who are so rightfully alarmed at the direction our nation seems to be headed in attacking many of our constitutionally protected rights, particularly the ones found in the 1st and 2nd Amendments. Oklahomans need to understand that, with all due respect to Mr. Langford and Mr. Lamb, passing SQ 790 would be opening a Pandora's box of problems that Oklahoma doesn't need. Our religious liberties are guaranteed by the 1st Amendment, and applied to our state by the 5th and 14th Amemendments. We don't need SQ 790 to help with those, and passing it would not be a responsible decision for our state.

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