Oklahoma Superintendent Commands Schools to Teach the Bible

Oklahoma’s far-right Superintendent Ryan Walters has issued a directive commanding the state’s classrooms to keep a copy of the Bible and teach that “the Bible and the Ten Commandments are foundational for Western civilization.”

In a memorandum issued to Oklahoma schools on Thursday, Walters announced: “Effective immediately, all Oklahoma schools are required to incorporate the Bible, which includes the Ten Commandments, as an instructional support into the curriculum across specified grade levels.”

“The Bible is an indispensable historical and cultural touchstone,” Walters wrote. “Without basic knowledge of it, Oklahoma students are unable to properly contextualize the foundation of our nation which is why Oklahoma educational standards provide for its instruction. This is not merely an educational directive but a crucial step in ensuring our students grasp the core values and historical context of our country.”

In a Thursday press conference, Walters added that “every teacher, every classroom in the state will have a Bible in the classroom, and will be teaching from the Bible in the classroom.”

The directive comes just days after Louisiana’s Republican Governor Jeff Landry signed into law a bill requiring every classroom in the state to display a copy of the Biblical Ten Commandments. The law has already been challenged in court by an interfaith coalition of Louisiana families who argue that the legislation “the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”

A similar legal debate was recently ruled on by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which determined earlier this week that the use of public funds to establish religious charter schools violated both the state’s constitution and the federal Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

“The framers of the U.S. Constitution and those who drafted Oklahoma’s Constitution clearly understood how best to protect religious freedom: by preventing the state from sponsoring any religion at all,” Oklahoma’s Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond said in praise of the ruling.

Walters disagreed. The superintendent — who has made a name for himself championing dubiously legal anti-”woke” policies throughout Oklahoma’s education system — wrote that “the Oklahoma Supreme Court got it wrong.”

“The words ‘separation of church and state’ do not appear in our Constitution, and it is outrageous that the Oklahoma Supreme Court misunderstood key cases involving the First Amendment and sanctioned discrimination against Christians based solely on their faith,” he added.

It’s not the first time Walters’ actions as superintendent have landed on the desk of the state Supreme Court. In February, Edmond Public Schools petitioned the court to intervene in response to a threat from the Oklahoma Department of Education ordering them to remove two books — Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and Jeannette Walls’s memoir The Glass Castle. — from its high school libraries on the grounds that they were “pornographic” or face a downgrading of their accreditation.

The court ruled in the district’s favor earlier this month, writing in its decision that “the state Board of Education is attempting to exercise unauthorized quasi-judicial authority in enforcement proceedings before the board.”

Walters’ status as a semi-rogue actor using his office to boost his political profile and feed culture-war grievances has been inevitably met with legal challenges and frustration from Oklahoma parents has even drawn the attention of the legislature — and the state’s governor.

Earlier this month, the state legislature passed new rules curtailing Walters’ and the state Department of Education’s ability to spend taxpayer dollars on self-promoting public relations material. The bill was promptly vetoed by Republican Governor Kevin Stitt, who instead issued a statewide executive order severely curtailing Oklahoma officials’ ability to spend taxpayer dollars on contracting public relations firms. Walters had previously been investigated by fellow Republicans in the state legislature regarding allegations that he had hired and paid his former campaign adviser, Matt Langston, more than $100,000 in state funds without an official employment contract.

With his latest directive, Walters is once again likely headed for a battle with the Oklahoma Supreme Court, state lawmakers, schools, and parents. But Walters’ string of losses within his own state is a price he’s willing to pay in exchange for the adoration of national Republican figures like former President Donald Trump, who earlier this week lavished praise of the superintendent.

“Great job by Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters on FoxNews last night. Strong, decisive, and knows his “stuff.” I LOVE OKLAHOMA!,” Trump wrote on Truth Social.

Walters promoted the shoutout from the former president multiple times on his social media, writing in one post that under his tenure Oklahoma is “leading the country in reforming education!” 

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