By Darla Shelden
The Oklahoma City Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church & State will host its 5th Annual Spring Dialogue panel discussion on Tuesday, May 7. The event is themed “Advantages and Disadvantages of Religious Involvement with Civil Government.”
The free event will begin at 7 p.m. at the Raindrop Turkish House, 4444 N. Classen Blvd., in Oklahoma City, and will conclude at 9 p.m.
OK-AU Communications Chair, James Nimbi said, “Our AU chapter looks forward to presenting speakers who can provide an interesting inside look at important issues concerning the First Amendment support of separation of religious views from civil laws.”
“The United States supports hundreds, if not thousands, of religious denominations. Not a single one of them can be allowed to gain political strength over any other denomination.”
A moderated panel discussion will examine topics ranging from marriage equality to how keeping religion separate from government helps reduce violence in society.
Panelists will include the Rev. Dr. William Tabbernee, Executive Director Oklahoma Conference of Churches; Dr. Bilal Erturk, assistant professor, department of finance at Oklahoma State University; Clayton Flesher, co-founder of Odd Oklahoma, and James Nimmo, OKAU communications chair.
Chas Stewart, OK-AU chapter secretary, will be the event moderator.
Dr. Tabbernee will address the topic of capital punishment. The death penalty is condoned and carried out by the State but opposed by many religious groups, including the Oklahoma Conference of Churches.
“The Death Penalty is literally ‘a matter of life and death,'” Tabbernee said. “Like all such matters, people have strongly held opinions on the subject. Opinions influenced by their religious beliefs and values.”
Tabbernee, an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has served as a local pastor, professor, and seminary president both in Australia and the US. He has extensive experience in ecumenical and interfaith relations, including over 20 years as a member of the World Council of Churches’ Commission on Faith and Order.
Born in Istanbul, Turkey, Dr. Ertuck is a finance faculty member at OSU’s Spears School of Business and a frequent volunteer for the Raindrop Turkish House.
His topic will be “Secularism: Lessons learned from the Turkish experience” focusing on experiences of the idea of separation of church/mosque and state in Turkey.
“I will talk about implementation of secularism in practice with some good and bad examples from the last 100 years,” said Ertuck. “As Turkey is one of the few countries in the world with a majority Muslim population and a secular system of government, Turkish experience would be a significant case study.”
Clayton Flesher, a contributing writer for OKC.net and the website Odd Oklahoma, is the Education Chair for the Oklahoma Atheists group. He will look at both the pragmatic and principled reasons for supporting a strong separation.
Flesher said, “I’ll talk about the role that separation has had in keeping religion robust in the US while keeping religious violence relatively low.”
Panelist James Nimmo will focus on the harm and support religious belief brings to marriage equality in the United States.
Nimmo has been active in progressive politics for nearly two decades. He has served as a delegate to three Democratic State conventions, and treasurer of the Oklahoma Stonewall Democrats.
In addition to his volunteer work with OK-AU, Nimmo is Board Secretary for the ACLU of Oklahoma.
Believing that the two-party electoral system isn’t accomplishing what is needed to make the economic and social environment better for all citizens, Nimmo states, “I am convinced that the best way to make progress politically is through non-partisan state and national organizations.”
A question and answer period will follow the panel discussion. Turkish refreshments will be served.
OK-AU invites citizens who support or want to know more about the importance of the First Amendment and the separation between religious dogma and civil laws.
Founded in 1947 and based in Washington, D.C., Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group that educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
For more information, visit www.okau.org or call 405-843-3651.
Spring Dialogue event examines angles of mixing religion and civil government
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