The punishment? Up to a $10,000 fine and losing your job.
Even amidst the current surge of conservative driven pro-censorship efforts in school districts across the country, Oklahoma GOP State Sen. Rob Standridge stands apart. Just over a month after introducing a bill to ban books having pretty much anything to do with sex, gender, and identity from public school libraries, Sandridge is back with a new measure to penalize teachers who have the unmitigated gall to teach something that might be slightly divergent from their students’ “closely held religious beliefs.”
SB 1470, the “Students’ Religious Belief Protection Act,” is set to be officially introduced into the Education Committee next week. If passed, it will allow parents and guardians to file complaints against individual teachers who “promotes positions in the classroom or at any function of the public school that is in opposition to closely held religious beliefs of students.” Standridge, whose campaign website describes him as having been “raised with strong Christian values” doesn’t elaborate on which religious beliefs he had in mind while authoring the bill, so I leave it to you, reader, to speculate wildly for yourself.
Crucially, the bill’s language is appropriately vague enough as to leave wide open what being “in opposition” actually constitutes. Could, for instance, a Jewish family be able to complain if a teacher were to wish their class “Merry Christmas”? Would a polytheist, or atheist, have grounds to complain at the “one nation under god” line while reciting the pledge of allegiance — which Standridge himself pushed to require in Oklahoma public schools? Is simply raising the fact that abortions exist and are legal (for now anyway) enough to legitimize a complaint by an evangelical christian student? And let’s not forget what this means for biology teachers who include lessons on evolution, as outlined in Oklahoma’s official Academic Standards for Science.
You start to see the problem...
According to the bill, school employees found guilty of violating Standridge’s standards of religious sanctity face a fine of $10,000, and risk losing their job entirely.
Given the seemingly inevitable problems with creating a punitive safe space for anyone worried their religious sensibilities might someday be exposed to teachings “in opposition” thereof, it’s worth pointing out too that last year Standridge introduced legislation that would allow Oklahomans to sue social media companies who delete or censor “a user’s political speech or religious speech; or uses an algorithm to suppress political speech or religious speech.”
Under that bill, a private company that deletes a social media message saying “Jews should be punished for their role in killing Jesus Christ” could be sued by the post’s far right-wing Christian extremist author. And under his latest bill, Standridge would theoretically allow that same extremist to sue their local public school if a teacher pushed back on that classic antisemitic canard.
Ultimately, who knows whether Standridge’s bill will actually make it into law. But given the deluge of censorious efforts by conservative lawmakers across the country, the fact that it was introduced at all is terrifying enough.