Friday, November 13, 2020

Anti-Christian discrimination reaches Oklahoma

Credit: The Weekly Standard

[Guest post by Jonathan Small]

It’s no secret government officials often target traditional Christians for harassment, but Oklahomans often view that as a problem that happens in other states, not here. Sadly, that’s not true.

In 2010, lawmakers passed and the governor signed into law the Lindsey Nicole Henry (LNH) Scholarships for Students with Disabilities program. It provides state scholarships for certain students—those with special needs like autism, or foster children—to attend private schools.

A few things are required for schools to participate. The LNH law requires that participating private schools comply with the antidiscrimination provisions of a section of federal law that bars discrimination “on the ground of race, color, or national origin.”

Those are the only three categories listed. Yet, under the leadership of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, the OSDE drafted new regulations that added “religion” and “sexual orientation” to that list.

As a result, private Christian schools are now being blackballed from serving LNH students.

When Altus Christian Academy and Christian Heritage Academy applied to serve LNH students, they were denied approval by the State Board of Education at the group’s October meeting.

Oklahoma State Board of Education member Kurt Bollenbach complained one of the schools required staff to be “mature Christian teachers,” which he declared was “discriminating against other religions or nonreligions.”

Bollenbach and Brad Clark, who serves as Hofmeister’s top attorney, also stressed the two schools' policies on sexual orientation.

Put another way, if they want to serve LNH students, Christian schools must be prepared to hire strident atheists and embrace all aspects of the LGBT agenda.

Bollenbach even declared Christian schools have the right to set hiring policies only “until they ask for state dollars.” But that is not true, because the LNH program does not force parents to attend any specific private schools. Instead, students attend by choice.

That’s one reason the Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld the law in 2016, saying, “When the parents and not the government are the ones determining which private school offers the best learning environment for their child, the circuit between government and religion is broken.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has also upheld school-choice programs that allow students to attend private religious schools.

It’s notable that the LNH program operated for nine years without any problem before the OSDE concocted these new restrictions on schools’ policies regarding religion and sexual orientation.

The OSDE regulations are, in effect, a unilateral rewriting of Oklahoma law done outside the legislative process. Fortunately, the illegality of that action is apparent to all, and the agency will likely face lawsuits if it does not reverse course.

Even so, this incident highlights a sad fact: Citizens in conservative Oklahoma must be just as vigilant in monitoring their government’s actions as their blue-state counterparts.

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