Let’s Display “In God We Trust” in Every Classroom, and…

Symbols commonly associated with six of the religions labelled "world religions": clockwise from the top, these represent Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and ChristianityI’m thrilled that the Oklahoma Legislature remains so interested in supporting religion in the state. In recent years, bills have been submitted (not all passed or will pass) to put “In God We Trust” everywhere except washrooms (slight exaggeration), proclaiming the Year of the Bible, and to display the Ten Commandments held by an angry-looking statue of Charleton Heston (OK, not really).

In addition, legislators have debated rules regarding who opens the legislature with prayer, whether limited to clergy in congregations of which they are members or not, and if they should walk out if the clergyperson mentions Jesus and a society’s obligation to the poor (which they did to the Rev. Lori Walke). And then there are those legislators who don’t think churches are doing their jobs unless they are doing all the social welfare work a society needs.

Great! So glad religion means so much to them.

But if the legislature would like to show its full support for religion in Oklahoma and the people who practice religion, then I’d like to propose the following measures.

Let’s open each school day and every football game with prayer. There are classic prayers from the world’s religions and from indigenous peoples’ ways of life. In addition, there is deep wisdom available in non-religious philosophical traditions. Schools can make space for such prayers. Whether or not the space is used, and making choices regarding what might fill that space, is up to students.

A Year of the Bible is a fine proclamation—as long as other years include similar proclamations to study the Quran, Tanakh, the Vedas, the Analects, the Tao Te Ching, and the like. What a rich education in the humanities would be developed through exploring the content and function of multiple religions. Can’t you see national news reporters’ stunned expressions in reporting that 2022 is the Year of the Quran in Oklahoma?

There is nothing wrong with displaying the Ten Commandments, as long as other law-giving wisdom from other religions have space. There is a lovely Native American version of Ten Commandments (I could not find the origin of the text). The Beatitudes from Matthew’s gospel are different in tone and content from the Commandments. One might include Hindu dharmas and Buddhism’s Eightfold Path. And while we’re at it, maybe something from Islamic law that is not the stuff that Christian conservatives proffer as Islam (I will forever recall an NPR reporter asking me how prevalent sharia law was in Oklahoma, since a large majority of the population had recently voted to ban it).

In public spaces, let’s encourage saying Merry Christmas to Christians, and Happy Hanukkah to Jewish neighbors, and Ramadan Mubarak to Muslims, and “wishing you a Diwali that brings happiness prosperity and joy to you and all your family” to Hindus. In every public square, let’s make spaces for ALL our neighbors to see themselves reflected in holiday displays—maybe including representations for the non-religious: question marks, exclamation points, a globe encircled by people, a circle of life.

And while we’re at it, let’s show how religious we are not only in displays and proclamations or in the vow to protect the lives of the unborn. Let’s show how religious we are and vow to protect and nurture the lives of the born by fostering a richly compassionate society full of opportunity for all children that is supportive of their families (including adequate wages and ending mass incarceration). Create and fund robust systems of public education (pre-school through college and trade schools), accessible and affordable health care, and 21st century job-energy-transportation creation.

I would LOVE to see our legislators’ religious and moral commitments invested in these ways! Invested in creating hospitable public spaces and a rich sense of “neighboring” for all our citizens and resident guests, and especially for raising children.

And stop the Christian Right defensive (and sometimes outright offensive, as in “go on the offensive”) legislation, seeded by Project Blitz aka Freedom for All and Wallbuilders, that both discriminates against some Oklahomans and does nothing to improve the quality of life for ALL the people who live in Oklahoma.

IMAGE CREDIT: Zscout370 – Star of David Symbol ; Boris23 – Christian Cross Symbol ; Ttog – Allah Script Symbol ;Rursus – Hindu and Buddist Symbols – Various religous symbols found on Wikipedia Commons. Symbols commonly associated with six of the religions labelled “world religions”: clockwise from the top, these represent Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Christianity.

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