Sometimes, I have to really work on my entries, and sometimes, the blogs write themselves. I decided to rant about Americans’ simultaneous and contradictory support for religious freedom and intolerance, and the perfect example fell into my lap. When I wrote the entry, I pointedly did not want to lambaste my fellow compatriots for being two-faced hypocrites. Rather, I thought it was a sign of our potential that we vacillate between our negative oppressive human tendencies and a nobility outside ourselves. At least we struggle with our consciences. There are other countries that do not even do that. There are oppressive theocracies, tyrannical despots, and ideologically intolerant governments that suppress alternatives without qualms. We may not have achieved the ideal in tolerance, but we do a damned sight better than a number of others on this planet. I thought it appropriate then, to give ourselves a little credit — and then renew our dedication to doing better.
Then, as if on cue, the never-ending fount of intolerance that is Oklahoma proffered perfect illustration of my point. One of our state legislators issued a call for a religious revival. Sally Kern, backed by the organization Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ, held a press conference at the state capitol and asked citizens to sign her “Morality Proclamation.” Apparently, she has confused “proclamation” with “pledge,” but she’s only a former educator, so you can’t really hold that against her. The gist of the proclamation is that this country was founded on Christianity (as demonstrated by select quotes from John Adams, James Madison, Noah “Dictionary” Webster, and others) and that we have turned away from our founding religiosity, becoming a leading promoter of “debauchery” in the world (I am NOT making the wording up there). There’s a lot of “whereas’s” and “be it resolved’s” in the text, which almost manage to drown out the statements blaming our current economic crisis on gay rights, abortion, adultery, etc. and scolding the President (who is carefully not named) for embracing the aforementioned debauchery by designating this month social perversion celebration month and skipping the national day of prayer (which is apparently not everyday). I am proud to say that a good deal of the public response to Kern’s call has been smart and skewering. Honestly, nothing beats the witty and knowledgeable sarcasm of escapees from the religious system here. We are bitter and we are amusing.
Annoyingly, Kern used this public setting, thereby involving tax dollars, and her position as a paid representative of the State to promote her religious convictions. She is welcome to do so on her own time and at her own expense. When she does this as a representative, however, she treads intentionally and clumsily on the Constitution and religious liberty. I know you’re thinking of the U.S. Constitution when I say that, but I was actually talking about the state Constitution, which coming later and benefiting from history, is broader and more explicit in its protections. The federal government can’t abridge your right to freedom of religion, but the State of Oklahoma promises “perfect tolerance of religious sentiment.” That’s right, not just tolerance — perfect tolerance. Now, to sign Kern’s pledge, you have to acknowledge faith in the “One True God and His only Son” and commitment to the “Holy Bible.” According to Kern and her crew, you can’t be a moral or religious person if you are not a Christian. I don’t know how on earth she thinks promoting this view demonstrates perfect tolerance for Judaism, Taoism, or even regular old run-of-the-mill atheism. Clearly, the message is that members of other religions besides Christianity or those who profess allegiance to no religion at all are immoral persons, or as I prefer to call them, “debauchers.” This is a slanderous insult to debauchers everywhere. Further, I question how dedicated Kern is to being a disciple of Christ with her rejection of debauchers, a class with which Jesus spent all of his time. In any case, when, as a representative, she makes the toleration in our state imperfect, she has violated the law of the land — which she took an oath as an agent of the state to uphold and protect.
What Kern overlooks by tracing our Christian roots to the Founding Fathers back east is the history of a diverse people here in this state. Prior to statehood, Oklahoma was two territories: The Indian Territory, where the Indians who had been forcibly resettled from back east resided, and Oklahoma Territory, which had been opened to white settlement in the 1890’s (and hosted a number of debauchers and outlaws prior even to organization as a territory). Originally, in 1905, the leaders of the Indian nations assembled and adopted a constitution, pressing for statehood separately. When Congress mandated that the two territories be joined to form one state, a second constitutional convention was held the next year. This assembly included whites and Indians; the co-mingling in the state even then was extensive. Future governor and chair of the convention drafting the final state constitution, William H. Murray, was “intermarried” with a member of the Chickasaw nation and served first at the Indian Territory convention in 1905. The constitution produced out of that first convention largely was reproduced in the second. So, from the beginning, the non-Christian influence on our government was significant. Our founders were a diverse lot — many of whom as Native Americans were not Christians. While our state constitution seems to prefer Christianity in places in the text, the promise of perfect tolerance and prohibition against placing religious tests on civic participation demonstrates an intentional rejection of that as the state religion. Certainly, the racial and ethnic mix of the residents must have prompted the broad statement of religious tolerance enshrined in the document. The fact that it refers to “Almighty God” but doesn’t designate which god that is or which religion falls under his guidance indicates that the vagary was an intentional means to be inclusive (which isn’t to say our founders weren’t a bunch of bigots and racists, because they were). At least on the religious question, they left a little wiggle room for non-Christians and a substantial mandate for the State. The obligation was not merely a limitation on the government but also a duty for it to assure that all persons in this state have protection from religious interference. This is a job the State hasn’t been taking seriously, perhaps, but one that remains. Thus, the perfect tolerance clause obliges the State to shut Kern the hell up. Morality is important, but tolerance is essential. Or, as the New Testament puts it:
“Therefore thou are inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest does the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelations of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds; to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile: for there is no respect of persons with God.” Romans 2:1-11
P.S. You are welcome to come to Oklahoma City July 24-5th for the Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ annual convention, or you can come to Tulsa that weekend for a two-day rock festival that is sure to sport some serious debauchery (NOT at taxpayer expense).