Oklahoma GOP lawmaker files bill forcing Ten Commandments in every classroom
Rep. Jim Olsen, whose state ranks 48th in education, thinks schools need more Bible
This newsletter is free, but it’s only able to sustain itself due to the support I receive from a small percentage of regular readers. Would you please consider becoming one of those supporters? You can use the button below to subscribe to Substack or use my usual Patreon page!
If Oklahoma Republicans enact a newly proposed bill, every public school classroom in the state will be forced to display a copy of the Ten Commandments. This is how the GOP plans to improve the education system currently ranked #48 in America…
The bill, HB 2962, was just filed by Republican State Rep. Jim Olsen.
It says that, beginning in the 2024-2025 school year, “every public school shall display in a conspicuous place in each classroom of the school a durable poster or framed copy of the Ten Commandments.” The font must be “legible to a person with average vision” and the poster must be 16 inches wide by 20 inches tall.
Which version of the Ten Commandments, you ask? Olsen spells it out in the bill (in a way that’s bound to confuse anyone just looking at the number of lines):
The Ten Commandments
I AM the LORD thy God.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven images.
Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is thy neighbor's.
The bill also says that if any classroom doesn’t have a poster or has one that doesn’t meet all the requirements, it must accept a privately donated poster that does. (Nowhere in the bill does it say what the penalty would be for schools that refuse to participate in this Christian charade.)
Needless to say, this is a blatant attempt to inject Christianity into public schools. To quote a federal judge who once declared illegal a Ten Commandments monument outside a Pennsylvania public school, “There is no context plausibly suggesting that this plainly religious message has any broader, secular meaning.” From the line “I AM the LORD thy God,” this is an endorsement of a very specific brand of Christianity, and the government has no business telling students what religious rules they need to follow.
It’s not like the list has a purpose. What exactly is the educational benefit of telling children they can’t have other gods before the One True Christian God™? Or that they can’t make false idols? Or they can’t take God’s name in vain? Or that they have to rest on Sunday? Or that they can’t have sex with people they’re not married to? Or they can’t want what their neighbors have?
Do kindergartners really need to be told not to commit adultery? (If that line were in a library book, you know these same Christians would try to get it banned.)
And which teachers are clamoring for the government to give them this distraction?Which teachers are lobbying the legislature for the ability to tell children they’ll burn in Hell for all of eternity if they don’t follow a set of mostly arbitrary rules?
This isn’t just a horrible idea; it’s illegal.
Oklahoma's record-breaking teacher shortages have gotten worse: Emergency teacher certifications have more than doubled since the walkout. And the state almost quadrupled its use of adjunct teachers in the 2021-'22 school year – those are teachers who aren't held to any state requirements when it comes to teaching certifications and college degrees.
Teachers saw some pay increases and increased classroom funding over the last five years, but Oklahoma still ranks in the bottom half of all states when it comes to pay, and per-pupil spending is still among the lowest in the country.
There are serious problems with education in the Republican-dominated state, and Jim Olsen is using his power… to throw Christianity at schools as if that’ll accomplish anything of value.
It’s possible this whole thing will fail.
A stand-alone Ten Commandments monument erected on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds was declared unconstitutional in 2015. In 2016, voters (thankfully) rejected an attempt to repeal the part of the State Constitution cited by those justices—the Blaine Amendment—which bans the use of taxpayer money for religious purposes. A bill drafted in response to all that, allowing displays of “historically significant documents” (including the Ten Commandments) to go up in public spaces, also failed.
You would think stand-alone Ten Commandments posters in public school classrooms would be even more egregious a constitutional violation than both of those things… but this is Oklahoma and these are Republicans in an age of Christian Nationalism. No taxpayer money would be used for the Ten Commandments posters.
Jim Olsen, by the way, has spent his career trying to make the lives of citizens worse. He’s previously sponsored bills to punish doctors who provide health care to women, reduce the penalty for people unlawfully carrying weapons, and ban the teaching of the 1619 Project. More recently, he cited the Bible when promoting the use of corporal punishment against children—in an effort to block “the passing of a bill that would ban corporal punishment (spanking, paddling, slapping) for disabled students in schools.” (Because nothing says “I love Jesus” more than hitting children.)
Remember that Olsen has an ally in State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters, the fellow Christian Nationalism who helped approve the nation’s first religious charter school, promoted the use of PragerU materials in public schools, and formed a faith committee to examine prayer in public schools. That very committee, full of conservative Christian pastors, recommended putting the Ten Commandments in every classroom. Olsen is now acting on it.
Democratic State Rep. Mickey Dollens reacted to Olsen’s bill by pointing out that “State-endorsed religious indoctrination is unconstitutional, idolatrous, violates parents’ rights, and contradicts the teachings of the deity he claims to worship.”
He’s right, of course. Ultimately, the question isn’t whether Olsen has the votes to pass this. He does. The question is whether Republicans in the state want to further alienate public school teachers who have already shown a remarkable ability to organize allies and protest Republican overreach into public schools. The state’s GOP has taken some measures to placate educators, but telling them to push religion into their classes would only undo any goodwill they may have generated with (mild) pay raises.
One other interesting note: Olsen made a key mistake in his proposed legislation .
Nowhere in the bill does it say the Ten Commandments posters have to be written in English...
He’s raising money for his posters here in case you’re interested.
***Note***: I should have mentioned that Texas attempted to pass a similar bill earlier this year. Democratic lawmaker James Talarico did an excellent job of dismantling the arguments for why the Decalogue needed to be in school classrooms.