A committee examining prayer in schools asked the state Board of Education to require every classroom to display a poster of the Ten Commandments and require students to take a course on Western civilization for graduation.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters announced the recommendations at last week’s state Board of Education meeting. The committee also wants the state to enforce an existing state statute requiring a minute of silence at the start of every school day.
Walters urged all schools to “begin faithfully observing” the one-minute of silence right away — and not cut it short for a “moment” of silence although state law allows for “approximately one minute.”
“We’re going to continue to look at every way possible to ensure everyone’s religious liberties are protected,” Walters said.
Though not up for a board vote, the recommendations were part of Walters’ superintendent update. The Legislature sets state graduation requirements, not the board of education.
Any requirement to display the Ten Commandments would surely be contested in court. The Oklahoma Supreme Court in 2015 ordered a Ten Commandments monument removed from the grounds of the state Capitol, and voters in 2016 rejected an attempt to repeal a section of the state constitution that prohibits public money from being spent for religious purposes that would have allowed the monument’s return.
Walters announced the formation of the committee during February’s board meeting at the request of a group of religious leaders who wrote to him Feb. 14.
“We are requesting you take every action possible to allow corporate prayer and expressions of faith in God back in our public school system,” wrote Wade Burleson, Jesse Leon Rodgers, Bob Linn, Howard Hatcher, Mike Biggs and Jackson Lahmeyer.
All but one of them ultimately served on the 11-member committee. None are educators.
In February, Walters said he would select the committee members, but on Thursday he said “they weren’t chosen by us.” The committee’s work was completed outside the agency.
Fr. Stephen Hamilton, a pastor at St. Monica Catholic Church in Edmond, chaired the committee, which met over two-and-a-half months. Their stated goal was to “reflect upon the founding principles of the United States and the place that Christian faith, virtue, and morality plays in making this Nation such a place of blessing…” Other members of the committee are Lahmeyer, pastor at Sheridan.Church in Tulsa and founder of Pastors For Trump, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2022; Burleson, a retired Baptist pastor who also unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2022; Rodgers, president of Tulsa-based City Elders; Linn, president of the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee; Hatcher; Michelin Butler-Lopez; Derwin Romani; Masood Abdul-Haqq; Aiya Kelley; and Silvie Tacker.
Jennifer Palmer has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2016 and covers education. Contact her at (405) 761-0093 or jpalmer@oklahomawatch. org. Follow her on Twitter @jpalmerOKC.