NO SQ790

I’m going to switch gears for a few minutes and talk about something that, at first glance, seems unrelated to education.

 

I am a pastor’s wife.  I am a cradle Methodist.  I am a Christian.

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My family pausing for a photo before Christmas Eve service, 2014

And I stand AGAINST state question 790.

 

If you’re unfamiliar with SQ790, it is a question to repeal the “Blaine Amendment”.  If SQ790 passes, it would strike language from our constitution that expressly prohibits public money from being spent for religious purposes.

 

Proponents of SQ790 claim it is about restoring the Ten Commandments monument to the state capitol.  Currently, it resides at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, less than a mile from the Capitol lawn.

 

But I’m afraid it’s about so much more than that.  Changing our constitution to allow public tax dollars to be spent for religious purposes would bring about two consequences that disturb me.  First of all, it would make us vulnerable to costly litigation as we would be (once again) attempting to establish a law at the state level that is clearly unconstitutional at the national level.  freedom-of-religion-400wSecondly, this would open the door to vouchers, a long-time agenda of right-wing conservatives that allows education funding to be siphoned off to for-profit charter and private schools, further crippling already financially strapped public schools.

 

Proponents of SQ790 claim it is an attempt to protect religious liberty:

“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.”

~U.S. Senator James Lankford and Lt. Governor of Oklahoma Todd Lamb

 

Friends, if you are comparing the “persecution” of American Christians in the buckle of the Bible Belt to the persecution of African Americans in pre-1964 America (and even today), then you are clearly delusional.  If you assign equal weight to being unable to blast a prayer over the loudspeaker before Friday night football to black citizens being denied basic civil rights and murdered, then you need to seriously consider the true definition of “persecution”.

 

In what way does the absence of a ten commandments monument from the capitol keep you from practicing its tenets?

 

Furthermore, if you believe in God and think God is not present in public schools because we don’t force students to pray or attend chapel, then you need to take a good long look at what kids and teachers are doing in our schools.

 

Last year, the students at my school raised over $50,000 for a community family battling childhood cancer.

 

The second week of this school year, the students raised over $6000 for the Susan G. Komen foundation.  And perhaps more profound, they honored our principal with a standing ovation at that assembly, which happened to be on the day she completed her final radiation treatment for breast cancer.

 

Students in our leadership class spend time tutoring at our surrounding elementary schools.  Students in our Key Club and National Honor Society complete community service projects.  My students show great compassion for those who are different from them.  They celebrate each other.  They comfort each other.  They challenge each other.  They affirm each other.

 

If you are a Christian, then you already know Christ’s greatest commandment:  Love God and love your neighbor.  And by committing to the latter, we are fulfilling the former.  If we are practicing radical hospitality and love, God is here.  No “Bible-thumping” necessary.  In fact, you don’t have to open a Bible or even quote a scripture to fulfill God’s calling to love and serve your fellow man.  Do you not believe if you go out of your way to help the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the needy that God will show up and speak for God’s self?

 

God is very much alive in the spirit of service and love that exists in our schools today.  I firmly believe it.

 

Which makes me question the true motives of those who stand behind SQ790.  At best, it’s unnecessary.  We already have religious liberty.  And at worst, it’s a smokescreen for some other agenda, which I don’t trust.

 

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#electoklaed

Just two weeks from tonight, we’ll be watching election results roll in.

 

Teachers will be watching with bated breath, wondering if the night will end with perusing houses in Plano on Zillow.

 

The good news is, support for SQ779 has been steady and consistent.  Despite the barrage of anti-public ed fodder from our friends at the Oklahoman Editorial Board (who published no less than SEVEN articles against 779 last summer—seriously…I stopped counting), the people of Oklahoma seem to be on the same page:  it’s not an ideal solution, but our legislators left us no choice.  We’re hemorrhaging teachers to every surrounding state.  And that warrants emergency measures.

 

I could be wrong, or perhaps buried under the work of operating a secondary vocal music program, but I’m surprised at the lack of campaigning against 779 by its detractors. I’m not an optimist by any stretch of the imagination (shocking, eh?), but I take that as a good sign.  I expected to be bombarded with propaganda somehow painting teachers as greedy moochers and miraculously linking passage of 779 to the opening of the hellmouth. I think those against 779 realize it’s a lost cause.  Turns out Oklahomans aren’t okay with mortgaging their children’s futures while the state financial situation continues to spiral downward.

 

Don’t make a liar out of me Oklahomans.

 

But despite the previous 222 words, this post is about a different item on your ballot.  One that could affect infinitely more change for students and teachers in Oklahoma—one way or the other—than passing SQ779.  I’m talking about your vote for state legislators.

 

After years of pleading with legislators to listen to the concerns of constituents instead of bending to the will of out-of-state interests, we’ve finally taken matters into our own hands.  This election saw a slew of declarations for candidacy unlike anything we’ve seen since term limits went into effect over a decade ago.  And many of those candidates are not career politicians.  In fact, many tout their willingness to put aside callings to other professions while reluctantly pursuing a position in office that will allow them to address the issues plaguing our state.  Because many of the previous classes of legislators were unwilling to do so.

 

And many are educators.

 

I know after years of legislative abuse, teachers are already preparing to go on the defensive once again before another legislative session begins.  Murmurs of further cuts to education are trickling through conversations.  Rumors abound about the return of the voucher wolves.

 

Let’s talk about vouchers for a second.  In recent years, our legislators have adopted other euphemisms like “Education Savings Accounts” (ESAs) and “school choice”, but the motive is the same:  pick the pocket of public schools under the guise of helping less fortunate kids, while truly seeking to subsidize private school for the wealthy ones.

 

Even with the support of multiple senior legislators, shenanigans had to ensue in order for a voucher bill to even advance out of committee.  Like removing an opposing legislator from the committee, and never replacing him.  Or the speaker and president pro-temp exercising their voting privilege on that particular committee meeting.  And despite having a large Republican majority in both chambers, the voucher bill still died because they couldn’t rally the votes for it.

 

Folks, MANY of the voucher wolves (Hickman, Jolley, Nelson, Kern, Denney) will NOT be at the capitol next year.  If they couldn’t get it done last year with all those people in place, imagine how difficult we can make it for them next session if we just vote the right people to the capitol.

 

Right now there are several races where educators are fighting tooth and nail for a seat at the table.  Personally, I’d love to see a few victories in these seats:

 

Lloyd Snow in SD37

Kimberly Fobbs SD33

John Waldron SD39

Mickey Dollens in HD93

and Shawn Sheehan in SD15 (my own district)

 

And any of these apples.apples-in-a-basket

 

In many of these races, the candidates are going blind into the election because they’re on a shoestring budget, unable to afford the polling.  Reward their effort by showing up in two weeks to cast your vote for them.  They need us to show them some love! And everybody loves a good Cinderella story, even if this madness is November and not March.

 

Seriously, folks.  I am willing to bet if we #electoklaed to a few key seats in the legislature, vouchers (and other anti-public education measures) will be DEAD before the session even begins.  Imagine what it would be like to spend a legislative session actually advocating for good legislation instead of constantly on the defensive of the bad stuff.

 

Many state elections are decided by just a few hundred, or even a handful of votes.  How many teachers do you know in your district?  We could swing any election we want to, if the mood strikes us.  And all we have to do is carve out a few minutes to show up to our polling place on November 8th.  And I’ll bet that scares the pants off some people.

 

Plus it would send a clear message to those in office:  you work for Oklahomans, not for out-of-state interests seeking to capitalize on our kids.

 

You serve at our pleasure.