The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s policy arm has named Rep. Burgess Owens our “Theocrat of the Week” for promoting the lie that the bible was banned in 1963. Meanwhile, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond has earned the title of “Secularist of the Week” for filing a lawsuit against the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board’s approval of what would be the nation’s first religious charter school funded with tax dollars.
During a recent House Education Committee meeting on book banning in schools, Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, delivered a rambling monologue lamenting the banning of the bible in 1963. It is difficult to make out exactly from where Owens claims the bible was banned. He remarked that “one of our nation’s most consequential book-banning was done by the Supreme Court in 1963 when it officially mandated … this book [holds up bible] is banned from all of us.” Owens seems to be referring to the 1963 Supreme Court decision in Abington Township v. Schempp. In that decision, the court actually held that mandatory religious activities such as bible readings in public schools violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Nowhere in the opinion does it ban the bible, which is why you can find a copy in most public school libraries today.
This was just a simple mistake by someone who misinterpreted the court decision, right? Highly unlikely. Owens almost certainly knows what he is doing here — he is purposely spewing lies for political gain. He uses the premise to push false Christian nationalist claims, such as that teaching the bible is essential to teach the “tenets upon which this nation was founded” and that the “Golden Rule” is an exclusively Judeo-Christian concept. The first minute of his speech provides enough demonstrably false talking points to fill a dissertation. Owens knows exactly what he’s doing, easily earning him the “Theocrat of the Week” designation.
On the other hand, the FFRF Action Fund is celebrating Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond for upholding his oath of office and protecting our entirely secular U.S. Constitution. Drummond filed a lawsuit against the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board for approving what would be the nation’s first religious charter school funded with public money. In his press release, Drummond boldly — and correctly — noted that “the board members who approved this contract have violated the religious liberty of every Oklahoman by forcing us to fund the teachings of a specific religious sect with our tax dollars.” Drummond’s lawsuit rests on the fact that the Oklahoma state Constitution prohibits “sectarian control” of public schools, and that the charter school violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Drummond’s lawsuit is enormously refreshing, especially given that he is standing up to two of the biggest Christian nationalists in the country in the form of Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters. Both Stitt and Walters have been outspoken in their support of the school, and claim it as a victory for their distorted version of religious liberty. Of course, religious liberty to them means forcing the public to fund Christian schools. Drummond’s lawsuit is in addition to FFRF’s own lawsuit challenging the school on similar grounds.
“Attorney General Drummond showed real courage when he filed a lawsuit to stop the charter of the unconstitutional charter school. We are so grateful for his efforts,” says FFRF Action Fund State Policy Manager Ryan Dudley. “On the other side of the coin, Rep. Owens is blatantly ignoring history when he claims that the bible was banned in 1963. Sadly, he is choosing to play the victim for political gain, as theocrats so often do.”
FFRF Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that develops and advocates for legislation, regulations and government programs to preserve the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. It also advocates for the rights and views of nonbelievers, endorses candidates for political office, and publicizes the views of elected officials concerning religious liberty issues. FFRF Action Fund serves as the advocacy arm of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has more than 40,000 members and works to keep religion out of government and educate the public about nontheism.