An Oklahoma state lawmaker is proposing a new bill that could levy fines on teachers whose lessons promote positions that are in opposition to a student’s religious beliefs.
Senate Bill 1470 is sponsored by state Sen. Rob Standrige (R), who describes himself as having been “raised with strong Christian values.”
The bill would allow parents and guardians of students in Oklahoma’s public schools to file complaints against teachers whose lessons are “in opposition to closely held religious beliefs of students.” Because the language of the legislation is incredibly vague, it essentially allows parents to file complaints if they disagree with a lesson’s content for any reason.
The bill would give teachers and schools the chance to respond to parental complaints, but if a teacher chooses not to adjust the curriculum according to the complaint, they could be fined $10,000 for every objectionable lesson they teach.
Standridge’s legislation places extreme limits on how these fines can be paid, forcing teachers to pay any fines imposed on them using “personal resources.” If that teacher receives outside help to pay the fine — say, from a crowdfunding campaign, or from a family member or friend — it would violate the terms of the statute, resulting in the teacher automatically being fired from their position. The teacher would also be barred from teaching in the state for the next five years.
The vague nature of the bill could empower parents to file complaints for nearly any reason at all, explained atheist author and journalist Hemant Mehta:
A biology teacher who explains evolution could be ratted out by a Creationist who’s failing science class. A health teacher who educates students about different forms of birth control won’t be in that classroom for very long if an abstinence-promoting teenager is on the roster. A history teacher who correctly describes the Founding Fathers as a mix of religious and non-religious individuals could be a target of conservative evangelicals.
“Give it time and the students would find reason to oppose math, too. The bill is vague enough to give them that leeway,” Mehta added.
But given Standridge’s own religious background – and the burgeoning right-wing movement to restrict educators across the country from teaching about issues like race and social justice in classrooms – it appears that the proposed legislation is meant to further empower white Christian families.
This isn’t the first time Standridge has introduced controversial legislation. Late in 2021, he proposed a bill that would ban public school libraries in Oklahoma from carrying any books that a parent might complain about. Under Standridge’s proposal, schools would be fined $10,000 per day if they failed to act after a complaint was made. The school librarian would also be fired and prohibited from working in a public school setting for the next two years.