OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A bill that looks to expand access for religious organizations to receive state tax dollars passed through a House committee Wednesday.

It’s Senate Bill 404.

Republican Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-OKC, is the author and said the bill serves to end discrimination against religious organizations when trying to receive government dollars.

“If you want to have a real limit on what can go to Religious Freedoms then there needs to be a separate reason,” said Echols.

The bill said it would be “a substantial burden to exclude any person or entity from participation in or receipt of governmental funds, benefits, programs, or exemptions based solely on the religious character or affiliation of the person or entity.”

Echols said there are already examples of faith-based organizations receiving tax dollars, so he doesn’t buy the “separation of church and state” argument.

“That arguments falls apart immediately when we use federal grants to go to Oklahoma Baptist University,” said Echols.

Democrat John Waldron disagreed that excluding religious entities on the grounds of religious affiliation, when dealing with who gets tax dollars, creates a burden.

He used the example of religious charter schools.

“Not having access to public dollars to form a charter school sponsored by a Catholic entity does not seem to constitute any substantial burden,” said Waldron.

Waldron understood the argument from Echols about federal grants going to certain religious-affiliated entities in the state, but said discrimination isn’t taking place with the use of Oklahoma state tax dollars.

“I didn’t see good evidence that this is happening at the state level where I feel we have a very friendly climate about religion,” said Waldron.

Two months ago, Attorney General Gentner Drummond rescinded an opinion from former AG John O’Connor, which stated tax dollars could go to religious charter schools.

Drummond didn’t agree, saying the opinion, “as issued by my predecessor misuses the concept of religious liberty by employing it as a means to justify state-funded religion.”

The Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act, which SB 404 builds upon, passed in 2021 to ensure that churches and places of worship would not be shutdown in future state or national emergencies.