- - Sunday, March 18, 2018

On March 15, Oklahoma’s Senate was scheduled to vote on SB 197, the Protection of Freedom of Conscience Act. This act sought to codify into law the rights and protections of all Oklahomans to express and practice their religion freely in the public square without fear of government penalty or government coercion. The Oklahoma Senate is composed of 48 members, 40 of which are currently Republican.

In support of SB 197, I issued the following letter to all Oklahoma senators:

“Dear Oklahoma Senator,


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Oklahoma Wesleyan University is one of your state’s premier universities. Located in Bartlesville, it has served Oklahoma citizens, as well as guests from around the world, since 1909. Oklahoma Wesleyan is proudly grounded in the 1000 year tradition of the liberal arts and, as such, it unapologetically stands for liberty: Intellectual liberty and personal freedom; freedom of thought and freedom of expression; freedom to agree and freedom to dissent; freedom to believe and freedom to dispute; freedom to pursue truth to its logical end, regardless of what those who disagree might think or propagate; freedom to hold fast to the very words of Christ — “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

I have served as Oklahoma Wesleyan’s president for 16 years and it is in this capacity that I approach you today with a singular cause: Freedom. Put simply, I am asking you and all your colleagues in this senate to cast your vote to protect the intellectual and religious liberty of all citizens you have pledged to serve.



The question before you today is really quite simple: What power should the government have over its citizens when it comes to personal convictions, religious belief, and the freedom to act and live in accordance with one’s own faith and conscience? Or stated otherwise, should our government ever claim the power to direct or prohibit the religious expression of its citizens?

Should the government, for example, have the power to “establish” that a Jewish owner of a meat processing business be legally forced to butcher pigs and, thus, provide ham for an anti-Semite’ s wedding? Should the government have the power to “establish” that the Muslim owner of the local newspaper be forced to print Charlie Hebdo cartoons? Should the government have the power to “establish” that the Anglican owner of a convenience store must sell bread and wine to a Satanist church for a mock Eucharist? Should the government have the power to “establish” that PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) be forced to advertise for the NCBA’s (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association) annual convention?

If the answer to all the above is no (which I surely hope it is), then how can we pretend that the government should have the power to tell an order of nuns that they must include contraception in their healthcare or a Catholic florist that she must participate in a religious service that directly violates a key sacrament of her faith? Don’t these women understand their faith, their business and even their bodies a lot better than any government?

I am well aware that some who oppose SB 197 do so in the name of “tolerance.” But, I ask you this: Is their objection really tolerant? When they say they “can’t tolerate such intolerance,” does the irony go unnoticed? Imposing ideological animus, moral indifference, and religious syncretism on the Catholic florist, the local Muslim businessman, or the evangelical faculty at Oklahoma Wesleyan University is the antithesis of tolerance. It is totalitarianism.

Voting for SB 197 honors and strengthens our country’s long-established wall separating Church and state. Voting against SB 197 breaches that wall by inserting the state into the very polity of the Church.

Please vote for SB 197. Please vote for liberty. Please vote for freedom.

Everett Piper, Ph.D.

President

Oklahoma Wesleyan University

Late on the afternoon of March 15, Sen. Mike Schultz, president pro tempore, and Sen. Greg Treat, majority leader (both Republicans) killed SB 197 by refusing to carry it to the floor for a vote. Their reason was clear: Retaliation against the bill’s author, Sen. Joe Silk, and co-author, Sen. Josh Brecheen (both Republicans), for not voting for a $450 million tax increase for the people of Oklahoma.

So, in Oklahoma, reportedly the “reddest of the red states” where Republicans hold an 83 percent majority in the state Senate, the GOP leadership kills a religious freedom act because a couple of their own refused to increase taxes by nearly half-a-billion dollars. This is shameful. Why do we even bother to elect Republicans?

Mark my words, Oklahoma, as well as many other states, will become a “blue” in the next election season because of such hypocrisy. Many voters will conclude that we would be better off with Democrats who are at least honest about who they are than with Republicans who are not.

Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, is the author of “Not A Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth” (Regnery 2017).

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