Revoked Constitution

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Legislature REVOKES State Constitution!

CONSTITUTION OF THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA

 

Section II-5:  Public Money or Property — Use for Sectarian Purposes.

 

“No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support

of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit,

or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.”

 As ordinary citizens celebrated the centennial year of statehood, the Oklahoma state legislature quietly revoked an important section of our state’s constitution. 

 

    The constitution, adopted in 1907, is our founding document — our social contract.  It elevates life above the law of the jungle (might makes right) and stipulates the fundamental rules of law under which the people of Oklahoma have mutually agreed to be governed.  

 

    Constitutions are only legally changed by the explicit consent of the governed.  That is why every legislator takes an oath swearing to uphold the constitution when they assume public office.  They are swearing to enact legislation within the parameters set by the constitution.

 

    Constitutions are not perfect documents.  Sometimes they need changing.  Every constitution makes provisions for how lawful and orderly changes should be made.  None of those provisions permit legislators to secretly revoke sections of the constitution — but that is exactly what our legislature knowingly did when it passed legislation authorizing a permanent “revolving fund” to compensate a select few religious organizations working with inmates being released from state prisons.

 

A strong bi-partisan plurality supported this egregious breach of the Constitution.  It passed by a 93 to 4 margin in the State House and by a 36 to 10 margin in the Senate.  Governor Henry added his signature to the bill on June 4.  The legislation will take effect on November 1.

 

On August 8,  Rep. Al Lindley, who led opposition to the bill in the House, held a press conference to announce that he sent letters to Attorney General Drew Edmondson asking him for an opinion on the Constitutionality of  House Bill 2101.  Lindley said, “The problem with this law is that the government is going to select which religious groups are going to receive State funding.”  His letter to the Attorney General asked specifically, “Is the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives a state office authorized to receive and distribute, directly or indirectly, state dollars?

 

Lindley also questioned whether the bill circumvented the authority of the legislature to oversee the Department of Corrections.  The bill creates a  Reentry Policy Council  and a Transformational Justice Interagency Task Force  with power to set and oversee the reentry policies and programs operated by the Department of Corrections.  Oversight of the Department of Corrections is currently the responsibility of the Board of Corrections which is accountable to the legislature.  Lindley said “there is no oversight or accountability” of the Reentry Policy Council.   Service on the Council “is never-ending” with “no provision to set the terms of office or how members are replaced or removed.”  Lindley specifically asked the Attorney General, Does the Reentry Policy Council and the Transformational Justice Task Force “preempt the statutory authority of the State Board of Corrections to set policy on reentry of inmates into society?”

 

House Speaker Lance Cargill, sponsor of the bill, responded to Lindley’s queries in a statement quoted by the Tulsa World.  He said, “Faith-based programs in prison work, and these faith-based groups should have the same access as everyone else.”

 

The problem with Cargill’s statement is that it obscures the subject.  Faith-based groups do have access to prison inmates, both within the prison and  when they are released.  As Lindley said at his press conference, “There are plenty of religious and faith based groups that do work with inmates in correctional facilities.  However, these groups use their own funds, not taxpayer dollars, to lend a hand to the less fortunate.” 

 

Apparently, Cargill wants a select group of religious organizations to have access to State dollars — which the Constitution prohibits.

 

Cargill defends this assault on the State Constitution by saying that “faith-based programs in prison work.”  If this is a statement of Cargill’s religious beliefs, then it is irrelevant to a discussion of public policy.  Religious beliefs are generally held on the basis of faith.  As the controversy over evolution demonstrates, many people maintain beliefs that are in contradiction to scientific evidence and research.

 

If Cargill’s statement it is a description of the standard by which government agents will be passing judgment on the validity of religious beliefs, then he’s really opened a can of worms.

 

Some research suggests that the techniques used in Scientology have helped some people overcome drug and alcohol addictions.  In fact, the State of New Mexico is currently allocating hundreds of thousands of dollars to faith-based treatment programs run by Scientologists.  If research demonstrates that the techniques of Scientology are more successful than those of Christians at reducing the recidivism rate among prison inmates, will the legislature expect Baptists and Catholics and Methodists to pay taxes to support the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard? 

 

Or, will the State give each faith group funds to work only with prisoners of their own faith — irregardless of whether they can demonstrate that their beliefs are successful at reducing the recidivism rate?

 

Suppose research demonstrates that the teachings of some faiths are actually detrimental to the successful reentry of prison inmates.  Will the government then blacklist those faiths and refuse to fund their prison programs?

 

With government money at stake, how can we be sure that politics will not influence the way the success of the various faith-group’s reentry programs are measured? 

 

Who is qualified to pass judgment on the validity of the beliefs and practices of all the religions represented among our prison population?  Who decides?

 

If only the majoritarian faith group receives funds for reentry programs, is that not unequal treatment — possibly cruel and unusual punishment — for prisoners from minority faith groups?

 

Is there danger that religion itself is being corrupted when government wants to fund it in order to use it as an agent of social control?

It should not take a rocket scientist to comprehend that House Bill 2101 was poorly conceived.

 

Clearly, those who crafted our State Constitution had a much clearer perception of these issues than current legislators.   Civil society is endangered when governments want to make religion an enforcement arm of the state and when religions want to use government to extend their reach. The wisest course is to abide by our State Constitution.       

 — BP

 

 

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