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Conservative ideological bills concern group

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Conservative ideological bills concern group

With a Democrat no longer in the governor's office to keep them in check, Republican legislators have filed numerous bills that could violate federal and state prohibitions against mixing religious doctrine with government, a group of concerned residents said Saturday.

Read more: http://newsok.com/conservative-ideological-bills-concern-group/article/3536708#ixzz1CefnQLvu

“This year we really have a challenge,” said Victor Hutchison, president of Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education and professor emeritus of the University of Oklahoma's zoology department.

Measures include requiring teaching creationism in public schools, paving the way for vouchers for private schools, and establishing when life begins, which could interfere with medical research and a woman's choice to have an abortion, said members of the Oklahoma City chapter of the Americans for Separation of Church and State.

“We've got tons of legitimate problems in this state — economic problems and we've got big deficits,” said Mike Fuller, president of the local group. “These legislators want to focus on these ideological cases that really will not advance our state at all. They'll send it going backward in my opinion.”

About 35 people showed up for Saturday's discussion in the Senate chamber.

Several of the bills were measures introduced since 2005 when Republicans increased their numbers in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The bills were either killed before being allowed to be considered by the full membership in either chamber or were vetoed by then-Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat.

For the first time in state history, Republicans control both the House and Senate and a Republican, Mary Fallin, is in the governor's office. Republicans increased their numbers in both chambers after the November elections; the House picked up eight members for a 70-31 advantage and the Senate picked up six members for a 32-16 majority. This year's session begins Feb. 7.

Republicans won some races based partly on their support for conservative ideological issues.

Some of these ideological measures, such as prohibiting evolution being taught in public schools and embryonic stem cell research, will hurt efforts to attract business to the state, Fuller said.

“Businesses that are looking to expand their operations into states do pay attention to these kinds of things,” he said. “If they are looking at some backwater state that has imposed restrictions on women's rights, scientific education, they're not going to be too inclined to come to a state like that.”

Greg Stewart, a member of the group, criticized Senate Joint Resolution 23, which would allow voters to consider repealing a section of the state constitution that prohibits state money from being used for any church or religious teacher.

“Removing Article 2, Section 5 would harm religious freedom in this state,” he said.

Considering voters in November approved nine of the 11 state questions on the ballot, it's likely this measure would also win voter approval, several in the audience said.

John Krizan, director of the religious liberty department at the Tenth Street Seventh-day Adventist Church, 1407 NE 10, said he is concerned proposed bills are drawing the church into government affairs.

“The closer you get church and state together the weaker they both become,” he said.

Hutchison criticized Senate Bill 554, which would allow creationism to be taught in public school science classes. He called it a “slick bill” because it states it requires the teaching of evolution but would also consider creationism a science. It would allow religious answers to count on science tests and science assignments.

“We are not anti-religion,” Hutchison said. “We are simply saying religion is supernatural. It cannot be addressed by science.”

Fuller said he is troubled by four bills that would define when life begins in a woman's womb. Some are similar to a measure Henry vetoed two years ago which would have made it a crime for a scientist to perform any form of embryonic stem cell research. The House barely voted to override it; the Senate didn't have enough votes for an override.

House Bill 1571 defines a person as a human being at all stages of human development, including the state of fertilization or conception.

“If it ever is established that an embryo is a person the whole abortion rights case falls apart,” Fuller said. “Women would have no rights. … There would be litigation beyond belief.”

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