OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A bill designed to prevent discrimination against religious organizations when it comes to receiving state tax dollars has been signed into law.
It is Senate Bill 404, known as the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act.
The language of the bill states, “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.”
Co-author of the bill, Rep. Jon Echols, (R-Oklahoma City,) said the bill is designed to not necessarily include everyone, but to not exclude those solely based on religion.
“Replace the word religion with the word gender in the bill, replace the word religion with the word sex in the bill, and this would be unthinkable to have a two hour debate over,” said Echols.
Democrats argued the bill is not needed.
“Discrimination against religious institutions does not happen in Oklahoma,” said Rep. Monroe Nichols, (D-Tulsa.)
The minority party also said the bill would open the door for state-funded religious charter schools.
“It is a substantial burden on the people of Oklahoma to force them to pay for the religious activities of a religious-sponsored school. Turning Monday school into Sunday school,” said Rep. Andy Fugate, (D-Oklahoma City.)
A couple months ago, AG Gentner Drummond retracted to an opinion from his predecessor, which would have allowed for state-funded religious charter schools.
Drummond said the opinion didn’t align with the state’s constitution.
SB404 does not specifically address state-funded religious charter schools.
Echols acknowledged the decision during debate and said the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act does not have to do with the AG’s action.
“This legislation was designed to reflect recent landmark rulings from the United State Supreme Court protecting the free exercise clause of the First Amendment,” said Sen. Julie Daniels, (R-Bartlesville.) “SB 404 clarifies that when the government makes a benefit available to private entities, it cannot exclude religious entities from accessing the benefit primarily based only or primarily on their character as a religious entity.”
The measure goes into effect Nov. 1.