Support grows for the repeal of the Blaine Amendment

State Question 790 is an effort to counteract a decision by the liberal Oklahoma Supreme Court to forcibly remove a Ten Commandments monument from the grounds of the State Capitol.

SQ790 is one of seven state questions that will appear on the November 8 ballot. If passed, it would repeal the so-called Blaine Amendment, which is considered a harsh restriction on religious freedom in Oklahoma.

Former Gov. Frank Keating, who is Catholic, wrote in a published article that the early Legislature was targeting Catholics when it passed the Blaine Amendment to the state constitution. Article II, Section 5 prohibited state support for religious activity of any kind.

A similar amendment was attempted on a national scale but it failed.

For years, it was not enforced because justices knew it would have outlawed support for church-supported schools and hospitals (two of the top three hospitals in Tulsa are Catholic).

That changed when a lawsuit was filed to remove the Ten Commandments monument from the Capitol. It was placed after a near-unanimous vote in the Legislature and completely financed by State Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow.

“Our Supreme Court ruled in a stunning 7-2 vote that Blaine is alive and well,” Keating wrote. “The court ignored numerous precedents to find that the presence of a privately funded monument of the Ten Commandments, constructed privately on the Capitol grounds, violated the Blaine Amendment.

“The discredited, contemptible, anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment was cited as justification for ordering off the grounds the Ten Commandments — a symbol of religion (to be sure) but a more significant statement of our Western legal traditions.

“It’s a mournful day for Oklahoma when a law of such dark progeny is used to evict the Ten Commandments from the Capitol, the physical center of our state’s public face. The Blaine Amendment needs to be repealed. Only the Oklahoma family can do it.”

Keating, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, all are pushing for a yes vote on 790 to repeal the Blaine Amendment.

Other proponents said passage would:

  • Get rid of an old, discriminatory law that has been used to target special needs kids.
  • Not force the state of Oklahoma to allow monuments (like the Satanic Temple statue) on its grounds.
  • Not affect the U.S. Constitutional prohibition against taxpayer money being used to support worship services or proselytization.

“If State Question 790 passes, Oklahomans would remove a current major threat to religious organizations – including Catholic social service agencies – who serve the poor, refugees, the disabled, the homeless, the hungry and many other needy people in our state,” said Catholic Archbishop Paul S. Coakley. “Unfortunately, in recent years Section 5 has been ‘weaponized’ by groups who want to keep religious organizations from providing social services, solely because they are religious.

“Section 5 has thus created artificial and completely unnecessary barriers to providing help to the neediest among us, including children with disabilities. What’s worse is that if Section 5 were ever strictly applied in the way some anti-religion groups have asked it to be, it would be devastating to Catholic and other religious hospitals, social service agencies like Catholic Charities, homeless shelters, halfway houses for released inmates, substance abuse programs, and the like.”

Coakley said repeal would finally right “an historic wrong.”

“Many people do not know that Section 5 was a provision that Congress mandated that Oklahoma include in its state constitution as a condition of becoming a state in 1907,” Coakley said. “It is … one of a series of state constitutional provisions that were designed to exclude Catholics from providing religious education and from public life more generally. Repealing Section 5 would remove this black mark on Oklahoma’s history.”

Oklahoma Baptists generally support repeal.

“The Blaine Amendment was cited by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in order to keep the 10 Commandments monument from being placed on the state capitol grounds,” Pastor Anthony L. Jordan wrote in the Baptist Messenger newspaper. “This judicial decision is extremely interesting. The Ten Commandments, which are the fundamental basis for the legal system of our country, when placed on state property, are deemed extremely egregious in regard to freedom from religion. Unfortunately, the law has been grossly misapplied. The issue of separation of church and state was never intended to protect the government, but to protect the church.

“I, for one, believe that SQ 790 should be passed and remove the additional layer on the U.S. Constitution. We do not need another tool in the arsenal of the ACLU and other liberal groups that, more times than not, seek to eliminate religious freedoms and religion from the public square.”

State Question 777 (Right to Farm)

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe is supporting State Question 777 (Right to Farm) as a way to protect Oklahoma from “extreme environmentalists” and the overreach of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Inhofe issued a statement last week after Gina McCarthy of the EPA said that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) should join her federal agency’s cause in being “advocates for climate.”

“Comments from the head of President Obama’s EPA confirms what I’ve been warning — extreme environmentalists are setting their sights next on the agriculture industry,” Inhofe said. “Congress heard this warning on July 8, 2015, when Jeff Holmstead, a regulatory expert, testified before my committee stating that if any future administration seeks to keep President Obama’s commitment to the Paris climate agreement, it will have to cater to the environmental community’s efforts to regulate rural America. Oklahomans cannot afford to brush off these warning signs as only a problem at the federal level.

“As we have seen with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, liberals in Washington are ready and willing to force states to make changes to their local laws to push their climate agenda. This historic regulatory overreach is on its way to the Supreme Court where it will be decided if EPA has that authority to pressure states in how they regulate. Oklahoma needs tools at our disposal – tools like SQ 777 — to tell liberals in Washington and those on the outside to stay out of our farming and ranching practices.

“With Right to Farm, Oklahoma will be endorsing and preserving our agriculture industry’s hard work and innovation that has given us some of the safest and most affordable food supply in the world.”

EPA Adm. McCarthy spoke during a session of the James Beard Foundation Food Conference in New York City.

According to POLITICO, McCarthy said, “I need [USDA officials] to be advocates for the climate, I need them to understand it’s in the farmer’s best interest to understand that they can be part of the solution and the damage if they don’t take action. I would much prefer USDA, who is on much more solid ground with their relationship [with farmers] to be the advocate for that than I would EPA. We are just too suspect.”

Jeff Holmstead served as the assistant administrator of the EPA for Air and Radiation under the George W. Bush administration, testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and said, “[I]f you look at the things that the environmental community is calling for in terms of tighter controls on animal manure, in terms of changes in the way that we plant crops, in terms of changes in the way we do grazing and all these sorts of things, changes in the way that fertilizer is used, these are the things you can imagine… If they really are serious about meeting their [Paris climate] commitment, they almost have to do those things. So it is either [the Obama administration] is not serious about meeting their commitment or we can anticipate perhaps a greater regulatory burden on rural America.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said SQ777 would not stop state regulation of water quality. Pruitt has not advocated for or against passage of the Right to Farm amendment.

While the amendment does limit lawmakers’ ability to interfere with the rights of farmers, it grandfathers in regulations passed before December 31, 2014. Protecting the state’s water would be a “compelling reason” for lawmakers to pass legislation that would be compatible with SQ777.

State Question 792 (Liberalize liquor laws)

This is a constitutional amendment that would liberalize state liquor laws and allow retail stores (like Reasors and QuikTrip) to sell wine and refrigerated hard beer. It would also let liquor stores sell refrigerated liquor. It has been endorsed by the Craft Brewers Association of Oklahoma, Homeland Grocery Stories, the Oklahoma Retail Merchants Association, 7-11, the Oklahoma Beer Alliance, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, Anheuser-Busch, the Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce, Girls Gone Wine, Nuyaka Creek Winery, Oklahoma Grocers Association, Sam’s Club, Target, Tulsa Regional Chamber, Walmart, Yippee Ay-O-K and others.

A website, 792notforyou.com, states that this bill was written by lobbyists and lawyers for big corporations without regard to the social impact of liberalizing liquor laws.

The website claims passage would mean higher prices because it would create a de facto monopoly, with out-of-state retailers set prices. A bottle of Jack Daniels or Crown Royal that now cost $45 could be $55-$70 if it passes.

The website said passage would decrease competition and therefore consumers would have fewer choices. And it claims it gives unfair advantage to chain stores over locally owned liquor stores.

And it could contribute to underage drinking.

“Most of Oklahoma’s alcohol laws are designed to protect the public from the social ills that occur from the misuse of alcohol – issues like drunk driving, teen drinking, domestic violence and many other crimes that occur after someone has had a ‘few too many,’” according to the website. “SQ 792 would not only allow 18-year-olds to sell stronger alcohol, it would also reduce the penalty for anyone selling to a minor from a felony to a misdemeanor. SQ 792 would also allow even younger teenagers to handle stronger alcohol.”

SQ792 not only would dramatically increase the number of businesses that sell alcohol but it increases the days and hours of access.

State Question 779 (Sales tax increase)

This would raise state sales tax by one cent (a 22 percent increase) to benefit public education. The funds would send 69.6 percent to common education (grades kindergarten through 12), 19.25 percent to higher education, 8 percent to “early childhood education” and 3.25 percent to Vo-tech.

It would increase teacher pay.

SQ779 has been championed by David Boren, former U.S. senator and governor and currently president of The University of Oklahoma. Country singer Toby Keith has endorsed its passage.

If it passes, several cities in Oklahoma will have sales tax rates over 10 percent. Here are the new rates for the following cities: Tulsa 9.517 percent; Broken Arrow 9.417 percent; Bixby 9.917 percent; Jenks 9.417 percent; Glenpool 10.967 percent; Sand Springs 9.917 percent; Skiatook 10.25 percent; Owasso 9.917 percent; Claremore 10.333 percent; and Oklahoma City 9.375 percent.

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb is opposed to the sales tax increase. In a report in an Edmond newspaper, Lamb said the tax hike would hurt funding for cities. Several cities have indicated opposition to the state question because cities are so dependent on sales taxes for their operating budgets.

And giving every teacher a $5,000 raise is inequitable because a first-year teacher would get the same raise as a veteran of 25 years. Lamb said more money needs to “go to the classroom.”

More than 50 percent of the state budget already goes to public education. This tax increase is expected to raise more than $600 million a year.

4 State Question 776

This amendment allows the Legislature to designate methods of execution for the death penalty.

4 State Question 777

This amendment gives farmers and ranchers the right to use farming technology, livestock procedures and ranching practices.

4 State Question 779

This would increase state sales tax by one cent (a 22 percent hike) with less than 70 percent going to common education (K-12) about 20 percent to higher education and about 3 percent to career education (vo-tech). It would mandate a $5,000 raise for teachers.

4 State Question 780

This would reduce most possession of drugs laws from felonies to misdemeanors.

4 State Question 781

This is a companion to State Question 780.

4 State Question 790

This repeals the Blaine Amendment of the Oklahoma Constitution and would restore the Ten Commandments monument to the State Capitol grounds.

4 State Question 792

This would liberalize state liquor laws and allow retail stores (like Reasors and QuikTrip) to sell refrigerated hard beer and wine. It would also let liquor stores sell refrigerated alcohol.