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Oklahoma education leader takes steps to bring Christianity to public schools
Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters said he'll consider the request from conservative Christian leaders
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Ryan Walters, Oklahoma’s recently elected Superintendent of Public Instruction—the top education position in the state—says he’s looking into whether Christian prayer and the “acknowledgment of God” can be brought into public schools.
During a meeting yesterday with the State Board of Education, Walters and his conservative allies said they would form a “blue-ribbon committee” to study faith and prayer in school:
“The first [committee] will be put together because of a letter that I received from religious leaders and community leaders asking that I take a deep look at prayer in school and the role of faith in our K-12 schools,” Walters said. “I will form this committee of religious leaders and community leaders across the state to ensure that we’re doing all that we can do to make sure that our schools are as good as possible for our students.”
Notice he said “religious leaders and community leaders.” That’s not entirely true. It was six right-wing Christians who didn’t even bother pretending they represented anyone but themselves and their faith. (More on them in a moment.)
The simple answer would’ve been for Walters to respond to those leaders by telling them prayer in school is already legal but coercive prayers are not. He could have said religion is already studied in school—objectively—but pretending Christianity is foundational to our nation’s history is misinformation.
But since Walters is a right-wing MAGA cultist who opposes the teaching of our nation’s racist past and used a part of yesterday’s meeting to remove “woke language” from academic standards, he has no desire to alienate religious conservatives. So he told them he would form a committee to explore an issue that’s already been settled for several decades.
What he didn’t mention at the meeting is what the letter said or who signed it. We now know both of those answers. The letter came from a coalition of fellow conservative Christians who have no desire to expand religious freedom for all but rather religious privilege for themselves.
You don’t need me to tell you that. Just look at the heading in the letter: “GOD IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Restoring the Foundations of American Education.”
To Superintendent Ryan Walters,
We are requesting that you take every action possible to allow corporate prayer and expressions of faith in God back in our public school system. Each of us knows the struggle and turmoil in our communities and the power that prayer and moral character have on kids and young adults.
The founding of our nation is steeped in guidance from our Creator. Secondary education in the United States was founded on faith in God and virtue. Stripping these fundamental influences has only made education and our state weaker. Our families suffer, our communities become divided, and atheism runs rampant.
Under your leadership, there can be a positive impact on our families and in our classrooms. We request that you form an advisory group to study the issue of allowing corporate prayer and the acknowledgment of God in our classrooms and make recommendations.
Wade Burleson, President, Istoria
Bob Linn, President, OCPAC Foundation
Jesse Leon Rodgers, President, City Elders
Dr. Howard Hatcher, President, Ministers Network, Inc.
Jackson Lahmeyer, Pastor, Sheridan Church
Mike Biggs, Pastor, Christ the King Presbyterian (PCA)
They’re not asking for Walters to form a committee to take a “deep look at prayer in school and the role of faith.” They want him to use his power to shove Christianity specifically into public schools under whatever legal cover they can get away with.
They already claim atheism is a negative influence (with no proof, naturally) and that the founding of the United States goes hand in hand with their brand of conservative Christianity (which is a lie).
We know this letter is disingenuous based on who’s doing the asking.
Jackson Lahmeyer isn’t merely a pastor; he’s a conspiracy theorist who ran for U.S. Senate while saying Black Lives Matter was founded by “witchcraft-practicing lesbians,” signed vaccine exemption forms for anyone who became an online member of his church, and claimed Dr. Anthony Fauci was a “mass-murdering demon.”
Wade Burleson compared vaccine mandates to the actions of Nazi Germany.
Bob Linn runs the “Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee” (OCPAC), which promotes a “Biblical Worldview” in public office.
Jesse Leon Rodgers runs the Oklahoma chapter of Watchmen on the Wall, a ministry affiliated with the Christian hate-group Family Research Council.
These are men who think progressive Christians are threats to the nation, much less people of other religions or no religion. And they know they have an ally in Walters, a graduate of the fundamentalist Christian school Harding University.
While Walters hasn’t named the committee members yet, you can bet any committee will be overrun by right-wing Christians who have no respect for the law, the idea of church/state separation, or students who don’t share their faith.
All of this is happening, by the way, while the state’s Republican Attorney General, Gentner Drummond, just announced that he did not support a Catholic Church-run charter school (that would have received public funding). Drummond correctly noted that allowing taxpayer dollars to fund one religious school would “compel the approval of charter schools by all faiths, even those most Oklahomans would consider reprehensible and unworthy of public funding.” Even though he framed it in a way that denigrates other religions, saying he opposes public funding for a private religious school counts as courage in the GOP.
Right now, Walters (who, of course, supports the publicly funded Catholic school) refuses to display the same kind of courage by saying the injection of one religion in school will not be under consideration no matter who’s asking for it.