coffia and stitt

FFRF Action Fund censures Okla. governor, praises Mich. state Rep. Coffia


Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is receiving an overdue “Theocrat of the Week” badge of shame from the FFRF Action Fund, the lobbying arm of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, while a Michigan legislator is being commended as “Secularist of the Week.”

Michigan state Rep. Betsy Coffia last week introduced House Bill 4690, a secular recovery bill, to ensure that anyone ordered to attend recovery support programs be provided secular options. (This is similar to the bill that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul disappointingly vetoed late last year, which is being reintroduced in that state.) While the courts have consistently held it unconstitutional to force defendants to attend religious programs, especially when incarceration is the only other option, the burden is on defendants to assert this right, explains FFRF Action Fund Senior Policy Counsel Ryan Jayne. “This bill’s key is that it provides multiple paths to recovery, including permitting the option of online attendance at treatment programs if no local option is available,” Jayne notes. FFRF Action Fund salutes Coffia for her initiative.

Stitt, a Christian nationalist, is being called out by the advocacy group for his years of trying to unite state and church, most recently throwing his support behind the alarming scheme to force state taxpayers to support the nation’s first sectarian public charter school. The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board on Monday approved the reckless proposal, which FFRF is preparing to sue over. In an Orwellian statement, Stitt called this “a win for religious liberty and education freedom,” adding: “With the nation watching, our state showed that we will not stand for religious discrimination.”

Stitt is a longtime member of the Assemblies of God church, and his father was pastor of an independent charismatic church in Norman. Stitt claimed that God called him to run for office. “The whole reason I’m standing here today is because of my Heavenly Father,” he told a Baptist congregation in announcing why he was running for governor. In fact, he added, “About three years ago, God started talking to me.” His wife Sarah Stitt said during the same gathering, “We are God’s kingdom here on Earth. It is our call to go out into our state and save people, bring people to him and help with all of these issues. Government alone cannot fix this.”

All this is part of a broader pattern.

“The governor talks openly about his Christian faith and, last year, drew fire from religious and nonreligious groups for saying in a prayer that he claimed ‘every square inch’ of Oklahoma for Jesus,” comments The Oklahoman, the state’s flagship newspaper. FFRF sent a strongly worded letter of objection to Stitt regarding his over-the-top sectarian remarks.

Stitt has a record of fomenting “culture wars.” Last year, Stitt signed into law the country’s strictest ban on abortion, with sentences of up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine for any health care providers involved in delivering abortion care. The law bans abortion from “conception,” with no exceptions for rape or incest, and theoretically only to save the life of the woman in an emergency. He defended this objectively cruel and heartless policy by saying that “God has a special plan for every single life,” again drawing a rebuke from FFRF. 

Stitt last month signed a ban on gender-affirming care for trans children that makes it a felony for health care workers to provide any treatments for children, and last year signed bans on transgender girls and women from playing on female sports teams and preventing transgender children from using school bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity. Last year, he also signed a bill prohibiting nonbinary gender markers on birth certificates for people who don’t identify as male or female, which was the first law of its kind in the United States. 

Stitt was early in jumping on the book-banning bandwagon, signing a bill into law in 2021 to limit student engagement with critical race theory, gender identity and sexuality in the classroom. Last month, Stitt vetoed a bill to renew the license for the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, the statewide PBS network reaching more than 650,000 viewers a week. Stitt claimed its LGBTQ-inclusive programming is “indoctrination and oversexualization of our children.” Fortunately, reason prevailed and the veto was overridden.

“Stitt is the very model of a modern major Christian nationalist,” quips Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF Action Fund president. “Unfortunately, Stitt has become adept at using government to inflict his theology on Oklahomans. His latest support of a public-funded Catholic charter school is unforgivable.”

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.