Thursday, May 9, 2013

Red Dirt Report--Fifth Annual OKAU Spring Dialogue

Fifth Annual OKAU Spring Dialogue

By Andrew W. Griffin

Red Dirt Report, editor

Posted: May 8, 2013

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
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 enlightenment principles.”

“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 in religion.

“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 ceremonies.

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