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Understanding Ballot Question 790


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Understanding Ballot Question 790


State Question 790 on this November’s ballot would remove a section of the Oklahoma State Constitution, known as a Blaine Amendment, which has been used to prevent groups with religious affiliations from competing for state funds -- even when the religiously-affiliated groups were providing the best services and not using the funds for proselytization. 

The question was added to the ballot by a bi-partisan vote of 39-5 in the Oklahoma Senate and 65-7 in the House. A "YES" vote on Question 790 will remove the Blaine Amendment and a "NO" vote will leave it as is.  

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, ACLU, and Satanic Temple have been urging Oklahomans to vote NO on Question 790.  Question 790 is being supported by bi-partisan majorities in the state legislature, the Oklahoma attorney general, former Governor Frank Keating, the Catholic Archbishop, Baptist pastors, and numerous faith-based non-profits and schools.

One of the primary motivations for the bi-partisan support for this ballot measure was a series of ugly lawsuits by secular groups against parents of disabled children and the Oklahoma Board of Education in Oklahoma, alleging that programs intended to improve service and access for children with disabilities violated the state’s Blaine Amendment. 

The Blaine Amendment also received attention when it was used to force the removal of a statue of the 10 Commandments from the grounds of the State Capitol.

Question 790 would not affect the U.S. Constitutional prohibition against tax-payer money being used to support worship services or proselytization. Religiously affiliated service providers would also still be required to follow laws ensuring they did not discriminate in the delivery of services. 

But if it is removed by Question 790, Blaine could no longer be used as an excuse to try and block tax-payer money from going to organizations that provided the best and most cost-effective services to Oklahoma residents, simply because those services are motivated by the provider's faith.

 

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Faith Shouldn't Disqualify Our Best Service Providers


Faith Shouldn't Disqualify Our Best Service Providers


When Oklahoma applied for statehood in 1906, Congress required that Oklahoma's leaders accept an additional clause (known as a “Blaine Amendment”) in the state Constitution that went far beyond the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment separation of church and state. 

U.S. law already forbade taxpayer money from going to pay for churches or for proselytizing, but the Blaine Amendment forbids any state government funding from going to religiously-affiliated organizations, even if those organizations are receiving funds to provide vital social services and are the best or only ones doing so. 

In other states, the Blaine Amendment has been used to block funding for religiously affiliated schools that had won grants to make playgrounds safer. In Florida, an identical amendment was used by atheists to sue one of the most successful and cost-effective ex-convict rehabilitation programs in the state.  

But one of the worst examples of the abuses of the Blaine Amendment was the five-year legal battle waged by secular forces and a few school districts in Oklahoma against disabled kids and their parents for accepting a state scholarship to attend specialized private schools when the public schools could not meet their needs. 

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Blaine Used to Target Special Needs Children in Oklahoma


Blaine Used to Target Special Needs Children in Oklahoma


Oklahoma’s Lindsey Nicole Scholarship Program for Children with Disabilities is a state program to ensure children with disabilities can still get a quality education if their local public school can’t adequately meet their special needs. It saves the state money by allowing these children to attend specialized programs designed to help disabled kids, instead of trying to create knockoff programs in each local school. And it ensures special needs children can get the best education possible.

Unfortunately, Blaine was used as an excuse by anti-religion forces to sue special needs children who won the scholarship and their parents. The children qualified for the scholarship to pay for private education because they were literally being put in rooms by themselves and experiencing intense bullying at public schools incapable of meeting their special needs. The children, their parents, and Oklahoma’s Board of Education were sued under the Blaine Amendment because the only local school with programs to meet the children’s special needs had a religious affiliation.  

After the original lawsuit made it all the way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court before it was dismissed and the plaintiffs chastised by the justices for suing parents of disabled kids, anti-religious groups brought another suit against the Oklahoma Board of Education. This case also ultimately had to be decided by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which found in favor of the State and the Scholarship Program in early 2016. 

The mounting legal fees and promises by secular groups to continue to sue under Blaine prompted the state legislature to propose removing Blaine from the State Constitution. 

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Question 790


Question 790


Question 790 was added to the ballot through an overwhelmingly bi-partisan vote in both the state House (65 Yea to 7 Nay) and Senate (39 Yea to 5 Nay). If Oklahoma voters also vote "YES" on Question 790, the Blaine Amendment will be removed from the state Constitution. 

The final ballot language focused more on the 10 Commandment monument than the primary impact of blocking grants to religiously affiliated service and educational organizations. But the language on the ballot will read:

"This measure would remove Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution, which prohibits the government from using public money or property for the direct or indirect benefit of any religion or religious institution. Article 2, Section 5 has been interpreted by the Oklahoma court as requiring the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from the grounds of the State Capitol. If this measure repealing Article 2, Section 5 is passed, the government would still be required to comply with the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, which is a similar constitutional provision that prevents the government from endorsing a religion or becoming overly involved with religion."