June 24, 2011
Kurt Hochenauer

Teachers shall not proselytize?

It�s surprising there doesn�t appear to be a clear mandate among voters for allowing religious expression in Oklahoma schools.

SoonerPoll, which just released the results of two questions I asked on its most recent quarterly poll, found that 46.8 percent of its respondents opposed allowing the expression of religious views in the state school classrooms by teachers. That compares to the 46.6 percent of respondents who believe teachers should be allowed to express religious views. All the respondents are considered likely voters.

Clearly, it�s a dead heat on this issue, which has become an important one in recent years. Social conservative Republicans, for example, have proposed legislation recently that would allow students to express religious views in school assignments and allow teachers to present creationist ideas about biological evolution in science classrooms.

State Rep. Sally Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican, and other social conservatives in the legislature, have also used their positions to push a Christian agenda in government. In 2009, Kern issued a �Proclamation For Morality,� which argued the following:

"NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that we the undersigned elected officials of the people of Oklahoma, religious leaders and citizens of the State of Oklahoma, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world, solemnly declare that the HOPE of the great State of Oklahoma and of these United States, rests upon the Principles of Religion and Morality as put forth in the HOLY BIBLE;"

Kern read the entire proclamation at the state Capitol, with the support of other politicians, such as state Rep. Mike Reynolds, another Oklahoma City Republican.

See the Complete Results and Analysis

Both U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe have also made no secret of their Christian religious beliefs. The legislature even recently voted to erect a Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol.

Given the amount of Christian rhetoric in the political discourse here, one might think voters would be overwhelming in favor of allowing teachers to express religious views, especially Christian dogma. Of course, the poll�s respondents might have viewed the term �religious expression� as too generic. It might be interesting to poll likely voters on this question using different religious denominations.

The results of another question I asked about teachers expressing political views in the classroom are not as surprising, but do indicate an interesting point when compared to the religious question. The poll found that 58.6 percent of respondents believe teachers should not express political views in class and only 35 percent agreed they should be allowed to do so.

So Oklahoma voters are clearly opposed to teachers presenting political views in classroom, but not as clear when it comes to religious views.

The poll questions break down how one might expect in terms of the typical liberal and conservative split. According to SoonerPoll:

"When results are broken down by political label, crosstabs indicate that 62.1 percent of liberals oppose the expression of religious views in the classroom, compared to 40.9 percent of conservatives.� Similarly, 70.7 percent of liberals oppose teachers� political expression in the classroom compared to 57.9 percent of conservatives."

Liberals, general speaking, want to protect the scientific method and critical inquiry in schools. Conservatives, more so than liberals, believe religion informs all aspects of life, including education. Perhaps, a little surprising, liberals overwhelmingly in this poll opposed teachers expressing political views. This is in a political environment in which teachers are often claimed to be less conservative than the overall general population, but I�m unsure how true that is in Oklahoma. Conservatives were opposed, too, but not as much as liberals. Given the current success of Republicans here, there�s probably less of a concern about liberal bias.

Kurt Hochenauer is a guest political analyst and commentator at SoonerPoll.com.� Kurt is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, a commentary writer for the Oklahoma Gazette and author of the award-winning Okie Funk blog.

Kurt Hochenauer
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Kurt Hochenauer