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Oklahoma official Ryan Walters institutes Christian indoctrination in public schools

Oklahoma superintendent Ryan Walters institutes Christian indoctrination in public schools
Ryan Walters for State Superintendent 2022

He has mandated that all fifth- through 12th-grade students must study the Bible.

Cwnewser

Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters is making waves with his latest directive: mandating Bible instruction for grades 5 through 12 in public schools. Walters’s edict has ignited a fierce debate, underscoring the broader national struggle over the role ofreligion in public education and the persistentculture wars shaping America’s political landscape.

Walters, a fervent advocate of integrating conservativeChristian values into public education, announced his new policy with zeal. “The Bible is an indispensable historical and cultural touchstone,” he declared, arguing that students must grasp the foundational principles of the United States. His memo to school districts demanded “immediate and strict compliance.”

Walters's move is a sign of Christian nationalism, a political ideology that seeks to merge Christian and American identities. It asserts that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation and should continue to be governed by Christian principles. Critics argue that it undermines the separation of church and state, marginalizes non-Christian citizens, and can lead to discriminatory policies and practices. The ideology has been associated with efforts to impose specific religious beliefs on public institutions and linked to increased polarization and exclusionarypolitics.

The move has not gone unchallenged. Civil rights groups and advocates for the separation of church and state have reacted swiftly and critically. Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO ofGLAAD, articulated the profound concerns of many: “Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters has fostered an anti-LGBTQ climate at schools, a reality tragically underscored byNex Benedict’s death. Walters refuses to prioritize the safety of LGBTQ, Indigenous, and all students. Instead, he is focusing on mandating Bible studies for all students in Oklahoma. As the leader of public schools in the state, it is Ryan’s job to serve students and families of all faiths and to ensure the safety of all students at school.”

Benedict was a 16-year-old transgender student at Owasso High School who took his own life a day after being bullied and assaulted in a school bathroom by a group of girls. Critics argue that Walters contributed to the environment that made the school rife with bullies.

TheHuman Rights Campaign did not mince words in its condemnation. A spokesperson described Walters’s actions as a desperate bid for attention: “He’s been stripped of his personal PR piggy bank, so Ryan Walters is doing the only thing he knows will get him attention: making absurd proclamations that are unenforceable, unconstitutional, and lacking in details that matter, but will get him the headlines he craves. It’s more political posturing at the expense of Oklahoma teachers and students.”

GLAAD has been closely monitoring Walters’s actions and their impact on the LGBTQ+ community. The GLAAD Accountability Projectcatalogs anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and discriminatory actions of public figures. Walters’s actions, including the prohibition on altering sex or gender designations in student records and the appointment of anti-LGBTQ figures to influential positions, have created an environment that many advocates argue is hostile to LGBTQ+, Indigenous, and Two-Spirit students, according to GLAAD and others

The legality of Walters’s mandate is already under scrutiny. State law does allow Bibles in classrooms, but the directive’s sweeping nature raises constitutional questions. Legal experts and educators argue that the mandate infringes upon the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which bars government endorsement of religion. Moreover, state law typically grants individual school districts the autonomy to decide on curricula, casting further doubt on Walters’s authority.

“The inconsistency between Walters’ language about mandating teaching the Bible and Ten Commandments, compared to the much more ambiguous language in the [Oklahoma Education Department] memo meant to chill speech, makes it clear that this is nothing more than another political distraction from the real harm Walters is doing to our public education system,” Freedom Oklahoma community engagement and outreach manager Taylor Raye told The Advocate. “Our students, our teachers, and Oklahoma families deserve better than Ryan Walters.”

The Bible directive is just the latest in Walters’s series of controversial initiatives since his election in 2022. From battling so-called woke ideology and banning books to opposing transgender rights, Walters has firmly positioned himself at the forefront of America’s culture wars. His attempts to establish a publicly funded religious charter school, recently thwarted by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, exemplify his relentless pursuit of a conservative Christian agenda.

Cwnewser
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Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).