Faith coalition wants superintendent to respect separation of church, state
Hoping to weigh in on the role of faith in public schools, a statewide faith coalition recently sent state schools Superintendent Ryan Walters a letter encouraging separation of church and state in public education.
Thursday, the Rev. Shannon Fleck, executive director of the Oklahoma Faith Network, said the coalition’s letter was sent to Walters’ office two days ago.
“Oklahoma is a beautiful and diverse state, filled with a multitude of religious and spiritual practices, and through this diversity, we are honored to live with an eye towards tolerance, acceptance, and understanding of our neighbor in ways we would not if we were all of the same faith,” faith leaders said in their letter.
“Any proposal to insert corporate prayer into public schools is living outside of the respect for ALL Oklahomans we are called to carry, and would place a great amount of discomfort and influence on students who are not of the Christian faith.”
The faith leaders’ letter was sent in response to remarks Walters recently made about forming a committee to explore the role of prayer in public education. He said he had not decided who would sit on the committee.
“What I would like to do is get a group together, faith leaders, community leaders and let them analyze it and let them come to their own conclusions about what we need to do for our kids,” Walters said at the time.
Thursday, a spokesman for Walter’s office, said the state leader had yet to receive the faith coalition’s letter. However, Walters sent a statement about the correspondence.
“Setting aside the irony of a Reverend sending a political letter to express her political opinion, I do have respect for her and her position,” Walters said in an email.
“In November of last year, Oklahomans had an election and they elected me to bring back traditional values into the classroom. I have a responsibility to see it done.”
The Oklahoman previously reported that six Oklahoma pastors inspired Walters when they signed a letter asking him to form an advisory group that would make recommendations on allowing prayer and acknowledgment of God in classrooms.
The six pastors, including former congressional candidates the Rev. Jackson Lahmeyer and the Rev. Wade Burleson, urged the state superintendent to take “every action possible” to reintroduce group prayer and expressions of faith in God back into public schools.
Meanwhile, Fleck said there were numerous faith leaders who wanted to weigh in on the topic, in the spirit of interfaith goodwill.
She said they were concerned after efforts to reexamine the role of separation of church in state in Oklahoma’s public education system and felt prompted to let Walters know about their concerns.
“The separation of church and state is a vital part of our country’s identity and foundational structure,” the faith coalition’s letter stated. “It was placed in our founding documents for a distinct purpose, which was to honor an individual’s rights to choose their own religious and spiritual life, free from discrimination or public influence.”
“Mr. Walters said that he welcomed feedback from faith and community leaders, and we want to ensure all faith voices and views are heard,” Fleck said. “We wanted to make sure that he was aware that there are many faith leaders who are not in support of this and that the faith voice in Oklahoma is not a unilateral one.”
She said the letter is available online, and other clergy may add their signatures to it.