Americans United For Separation of Church and State (AU) is a nonpartisan educational organization dedicated to preserving the constitutional principle of church-state separation as the only way to ensure religious freedom for all Americans. Americans United represents over 70,000 individual members and 5,000 churches and other houses of worship nationwide.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Red Dirt Report--Fifth Annual OKAU Spring Dialogue
OK-AU Spring Dialogue panelists (l-r) William Tabbernee, Clayton Flesher, Bilal Erturk and James Nimmo.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Covering issues as diverse as capital
punishment, Turkish secularism, marriage equality and the pragmatic and
principled reasons for supporting the separation of church and state, Tuesday
night’s fifth annual Spring Dialogue, sponsored by the Oklahoma City chapter of
Americans United for Separation of Church & State at the Raindrop Turkish
House, drew a nice crowd while providing fodder for conversation and debate.
This year’s panel – with the theme being “Advantages
and Disadvantages of Religious Involvement with Civil Government” - included
James Nimmo, communications chair for OK-AU, Clayton Flesher, and atheist and co-founder
of Odd Oklahoma, Dr. Bilal Erturk, a
finance professor at Oklahoma State University and the Rev. Dr. William
Tabbernee, executive director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches.
“We are the number one state in the U.S., per capita,
for capital punishment, and the third in actual numbers, after Texas and
Virginia,” Tabbernee said. “And the question is ‘why’?”
As Tabbernee explained, the state embrace of the
death penalty is religiously linked to the “divine right of kings,” as interpreted
in the Bible, particularly the archaic, monarchist-endorsed King James version.
lesher, meanwhile, tackled the separation of church
and state from the perspective of its pragmatic usefulness. He talks about Adam
Smith’s 18th century book The Wealth of Nations, and
the idea of “the economics of religion.”
Noted Flesher on Smith’s findings: “Government involvement
in religion would likely decrease pluralism or the variety of religions in a
country and decrease religiosity.”
Flesher reminded the diverse audience that “The United States is founded on
“We do not want the government deciding winners and
losers on the subject of religion," he said.
Erturk, a native of Turkey, shared his thoughts on
the Turkish Republic’s secular model which is different in that while the state
is secular, they still control much of the Muslim-majority country’s involvement
“One area, which is a hot button issue in Turkey, is
women wearing headscarves,” Erturk said, banned for having religious connotations.
The law there acts like Clorox bleach, he said,
wiping away religious symbols and lifestyle from social life, although in
recent years, those authoritarian views are being somewhat relaxed.
Erturk said this approach is not all that different from
the centralized, government approach seen in Saudi Arabia with the thuggish Commission
for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices that force women to wear coverings.
The final speaker, James Nimmo, addressed marriage equality
for taxpaying, American gay and lesbian citizens and how the state collaborates
with the dominant religion in denying them marriage rights.
“I believe morality comes from empathy and not from
religion,” Nimmo said. “Most of us know people steeped in religion, but who
have little empathy or understanding for those with differing backgrounds or
points of view.”
Nimmo continued, explaining that religious minorities
“frequently to have to defend their 1st Amendement rights against
the stereotypes held up by the dominantly and politically misinformed.”
Nimmo reminded those in the audience that the
dominant religious views in a place like Oklahoma, where conservative
interpretations of Christianity take the dominant position.
Marriage, he said, is allowed for those in prison,
as an example of where “morality” is more or less moot. Therefore, the state,
embracing “religious dogma,” denies LGBT couples from marrying.
He also made the point that the state is in
violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion by not
allowing religious groups that allow same-sex marriage to perform those