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Oklahoma lawmaker files bill to mandate displaying Ten Commandments in public school classrooms

A Ten Commandments monument was removed from State Capitol grounds in 2015.
Ryan LaCroix
A Ten Commandments monument was removed from State Capitol grounds in 2015.

Rep. Jim Olsen (R-Roland) filed a bill last week that would mandate hanging the Ten Commandments in Oklahoma’s public school classrooms.

House Bill 2962 would require every Oklahoma public school classroom to display a poster or framed copy of the Ten Commandments. The bill prescribes the poster to be at least 16 inches wide and 20 inches tall and must include specific King James-style wording.

The bill also requires Oklahoma schools to accept private donations of Ten Commandment posters that meet the specifications.

Olsen’s proposed legislation echoes similar recommendations from a blue ribbon committee of faith leaders put together last year by State Superintendent Ryan Walters. Notably, none of the faith leaders espouse a religion other than Christianity, and one of the six represented organizations is founded on Christian nationalism.

Tuesday, Walters went on the conservative radio program, the Lars Larson Show. Larson asked how Walters would respond to the “atheists and the heathens and the nonbelievers and the godless pagans out there,” who claim such a bill would violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

“Until the 1960s, if you would’ve walked into a schoolhouse, you would have heard some kids praying and some kids taking a moment of silence,” Walters replied. “You would’ve seen kids standing for the pledge of allegiance. You would’ve seen scripture on the walls. You would’ve seen the Ten Commandments. So this clearly did not violate the Establishment Clause. We have historical precedent to show this was universally being done for over a century till a liberal court decided to weaponize its jurisprudence against Christians.”

Walters also acknowledged that if the legislation passed, a storm of legal action was likely to follow.

Olsen also referenced classrooms of the past in a news release, citing 17th and 19th century textbooks that featured the Ten Commandments.

“The Ten Commandments is one of the foundations of our nation,” Olsen said in the release. “Publicly and proudly displaying them in public school classrooms will serve as a reminder of the ethics of our state and country as students and teachers go about their day. It is my prayer that this display would inspire our young people during their formative years and encourage them to lead moral, principled lives.”

In a Tuesday news release, Walters doubled down on defending the proposed policy, blaming the “breakdown in classroom discipline” on the “elimination of the Ten Commandments as guideposts for student behavior.”

“I will continue to fight against state-sponsored atheism that has caused society to go downhill,” Walters said in the release.

Democratic lawmakers took to X (formerly Twitter) to denounce the proposed legislation. Rep. Mickey Dollens (D-Oklahoma City) wrote that bills like these are “dangerous.”

“Christian Nationalist politicians believe they have divine authority to enact laws based on their interpretation of the Bible, forcing their religious beliefs on society,” the post reads. “This is unconstitutional, exclusionary and dangerous. By endorsing a state-sponsored religion, they undermine the foundational principle of religious freedom upon which the United States was built.”

As a reminder, thousands of bills are filed every year, and only a fraction of them end up passing through all of the legislative hurdles to become law. This year’s legislative session begins Feb. 5.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Beth reports on education topics for StateImpact Oklahoma.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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