By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
The Oklahoma City Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church & State (OKC-AU) will hold its fifth annual Oklahoma Legislative Preview on Saturday, Jan. 25. The event titled, “Crossing the Line” will be held at the Belle Isle Library, 10 a.m. – noon, 5501 N. Villa in Oklahoma City.
The Preview will include a review of selected proposed bills that OKC-AU feels cross the line between religious point of view and civil rights as defined in Oklahoma and federal constitutions.
Three featured speakers will outline the history of their respective religious denominations. A brief explanation of how proposed bills become law in Oklahoma will also be presented.
Dr. Victor H. Hutchison, George Lynn Cross Research Professor Emeritus, Department of Biology, University of Oklahoma, will discuss proposed bills involving religion and science education.
Hutchinson received his Ph.D. in Zoology from Duke University, was a faculty member at the University of Rhode Island for 11 years and served as Chair of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma from 1970 to1980.
Receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship for study in Colombia, Hutchison has published approximately 150 scientific papers and book chapters.
Rev. Jim Shields of Oklahoma City, one of the founding members of the Oklahoma City chapter of Americans United, will be outlining the history of church/state separation in the Methodist tradition.
A retired Methodist minister, Shields served as a college chaplain for nine years at the University of Oklahoma, as Pastor of the Hillcrest Methodist Church in Oklahoma City and most recently as pastor of Wheatland Methodist Church.
Shields served as Vice President of Americans United for two years. He was also the president of the Oklahoma chapter for two years.
Jim Huff, a local Deacon and Sunday school teacher at First Baptist Church, will be speaking about the Baptist history of separation of church and state.
Huff earned a Bachelor’s degree in secondary education from the University of Oklahoma and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Oklahoma City University. Now retired, he taught Social Studies in Oklahoma City Public Schools for twenty-nine years, along with courses including the Bible as History, Religions of the World, U.S. History, Psychology, and Human Relations.
Huff is a member of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, OKC-AU and Phi Delta Kappa Education Fraternity.
This event previews bills submitted by both Houses of the Oklahoma Legislature. The group’s purpose is to determine if they interfere with First Amendment freedom of religion and the rights of others.
James Nimmo, communication chair of OKC-AU, said, “This year’s theme, Crossing the Line, reflects the intent that some bills introduced during this year’s legislative session violate the Constitutional separation of religious views from civil laws.
“Religious observance is free for all to exercise in private with other like-minded people,” Nimmo added. “However, when tax money, public property or the legal power of the state is used to support religious views that are not shared by others, it crosses the line of legality.”
The first regular session of the 55th Oklahoma Legislature officially convenes on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 12 p.m.
OKC-AU President John Loghry said, “Our society is meant to have many voices, but much of this legislation seems to be aimed at keeping those that are not evangelical from having equal footing in the conversation.”
The public is encouraged to attend this free event and participate with questions and comments. Light refreshments will be served.
Americans United (AU) is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to preserving the constitutional principle of church-state separation as the only way to ensure religious freedom for all Americans. AU represents over 70,000 individual members and 5,000 churches and other houses of worship nationwide.
For more information, visit okau.org or call James Nimmo at 405-843-3651.