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The Legislature passes a bill allowing religious education during the school day in Oklahoma

The Oklahoma House narrowly passed a bill Wednesday that would allow students to leave school three times a week for religious classes. (Photo by Nuria Martinez-Keel/Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma bill that would allow students to leave school for up to three class periods per week for religious education is on its way to the governor’s desk.

House Bill 1425that House lawmakers narrowly passed Wednesday would allow students to earn college credit for completing a religion or morality course from an “independent entity,” should the class meet criteria set by the local school board.

Responsibility for transportation, financing and strict liability would lie with the student’s parents or the entity providing the course.

The Ohio-based nonprofit LifeWise Academy has advocated for this policy nationwide with the goal of integrating Bible education into the public school day.

HB 1425 author Rep. Clay Staires, R-Skiatook, said releasing students from school for religious classes is already legal under federal and Oklahoma law.

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“This bill is not an invention of something new,” Staires said while debating in favor of the measure. “It does not legalize something that is illegal, and it does not create a new right for parents.”

State law allows students to be excluded from school for religious reasons. The U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1952 that it is constitutional for public schools to allow students to leave campus during the school day to attend religious classes, as long as it does not cost public funds.

The Oklahoma law would allow students to take up to 125 class hours per school year. The student would have to obtain parental permission and would be responsible for any missed schoolwork.

About two dozen House Republicans joined the Democratic minority in voting against HB 1425.

Lawmakers from both parties said the bill is too vague and could create a greater risk of lawsuits instead of preventing them. Several rural Republicans said school superintendents in their districts were adamantly opposed to the legislation.

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“I feel like we’re going to bring home a storm of disruption that will last for years, and we’ll be back on this floor to deal with it,” Rep. Judd Strom, R-Copan, said during House debate.

The House voted 49-41 to approve the Senate amendments to the bill, then sent it to the governor’s desk on a 50-40 vote.

House Majority Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, defended HB 1425 as a way to give local school boards a framework to expand religious course options during release if they choose.

“What it does is say to a kid, ‘If the school board decides it’s worth an elective, you can go do it,’” Echols said.

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The post Legislature passes bill allowing religious education during school day in Oklahoma appeared first on Oklahoma Voice.

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