Lankford: SQ 790 corrects virus in Oklahoma Constitution

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In a November 1, 2016, speech to pastors in Tulsa, U. S. Senator James Lankford likened Article II, Section 5, of the Oklahoma Constitution to a latent computer virus. Lankford warned that unless Oklahomans repeal that section by passing SQ 790, anti-religion litigants will be able to use the provision to block any partnership between state and local government and faith-based organizations in areas like foster care, adoption services, hospitals, and care for the homeless.

While I could take issue with the details of his recounting of the history of the Blaine Amendment and similar provisions in state constitutions, it is true that many of the enabling acts for new states required such provisions to be included in state constitutions, and it's also true that anti-Catholic-immigrant fear motivated the effort.

More importantly, Lankford's warning about the future in Oklahoma is spot on. The language in Article II, Section 5, prohibits even an indirect benefit to a sectarian institution from use of state funds or assets. While there are now a couple of precedents, one very recent -- Murrow Indian Orphans Home v. Childers (1946 OK 187) and Oliver v. Hofmeister (2016 OK 15) -- that seem to allow state payments to a religious institution if the state is being relieved of some financial obligation in return, there were grounds in the plain meaning of the words of Article II, Section 5, to rule the other way.

Oklahoma citizens benefit when organizations, driven by faith in the God who created us for good works, care for the needy. It reduces the burden on taxpayers when staff and clergy funded by church members join with volunteers to meet these needs. But the only way to ensure that this beneficial relationship can survive a future court challenge is to pass SQ 790 to eliminate an overly broad and inconsistently interpreted provision in our State Constitution.

Sen. Lankford is up for re-election, and if you appreciate the foresight and eloquence he applied to this issue, you'll want to join me in voting to send him back to Washington for a full six-year term.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 6, 2016 9:42 AM.

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