This month's edition of the Social Justice Ministry Network Newsletter focuses on the State Questions voters will decide on in November. The Oklahoma Conference of Churches, with the approval of the Council of Communion Leaders, has officially taken a stance on four of the State Questions: SQ 776, 777, 780, and 781. This newsletter will take you through those four State Questions, and will explain why OCC has taken such stances, whether opposing or supporting. This is not an exhortation to vote one way or another, but rather an explanation for why OCC has officially taken stances on State Questions 776, 777, 780, and 781.
State Question 776 is the first state question Oklahomans will have to decide
on in November. It has two components: First, if approved, SQ 776 would add a new section to Oklahoma's Constitution declaring that the Death Penalty is not cruel or unusual punishment, and therefore not against the Eighth
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Second, SQ 776 would declare that alternative methods of execution are permissible if drugs for lethal injection are not available. The Legislature woul
d have the power to designate any method of execution as long as it isn't prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.
Oklahoma's execution protocol has received increased scrutiny following the botched execution of Clayton Lockett and the execution of Charles Warner, who was executed with the wrong drug. As a result of the investigations surrounding these cases, all Oklahoma executions are on hold until a new execution protocol is approved. SQ 776 came about largely as a result of the criticism Oklahoma's execution protocol has received. If passed, it could potentially upset the role the judiciary plays in checks and balances.
The Oklahoma Conference of Churches has officially taken a stand against State Question 776. SQ 776 would enable Oklahoma to continue practices which OCC believes to be un-Christian, unnecessary, unfair, possibly unconstitutional, and fiscally irresponsible. OCC is committed to upholding the dignity of all persons (even those who commit heinous crimes), as created by God. For a copy of OCC's statement against SQ 776, click here.
The next State Question voters will have to decide on is State Question 777.
Called the "Right to Farm" amendment by proponents, SQ 777 would ban any new law regulating or prohibiting particular agricultural practice unless such a regulation is shown to have a "compelling state interest." In order to
display a compelling state interest, the law must pass strict scrutiny by the courts, the hardest legal test to pass.
OCC has taken a stand against State
Question 777. If approved, SQ 777 would make it nearly impossible to protect the environment in the future from potentially dangerous farming practices by large agricultural conglomerates and would also prevent small farmers from obtaining future regulatory safeguards should they need them. Moreover, by making it so difficult to pass potential regulations on farming, SQ 777 removes some of the power of democracy by limiting the ability of our elected legislators to do their jobs.
As Christians, we are called to be good stewards of the earth that God has given us. Part of respecting the earth is guaranteeing safeguards can be put in place against practices that would be harmful to the environment. SQ 777 opens the door to increased irresponsibility with the lands, waters, and animals that God has given us. For OCC's Theological Statement on the Environment, click here.
State Questions 780 and 781 will be addressed together because they gohand-in-hand. SQ 780 and 781 relate to criminal justice reform. SQ 780 would reclassify certain minor offenses, namely simple drug offenses and low-level property offenses, as misdemeanors instead of felonies, which is their current classification. Currently, with so many crimes being classified as felonies, people coming out of prison find it incredibly difficult, and at times
impossible, to be reintegrated into society. Having that "f" by your na
me creates serious obstacles to obtaining housing and employment, two things which greatly aid in the rehabilitation and reintegration processe
s. By reclassifying certain minor offenses as misdemeanors, taxpayer money will be saved, and more people can be successfully reintegrated into society. SQ 781 would take the money saved and direct those funds to counties to invest in community rehabilitation programs like mental health care, substance abuse treatment, and job training. State Question 781 is intended to implement criminal justice reforms that focus on treating the root causes of crime.
The Oklahoma Conference of Churches supports State Questions 780 and 781. We have partnered with Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, the organization that amassed the signatures needed to get the State Questions on the ballot. Our efforts to change the system come from the urgency of the situation. Oklahoma has the second-highest incarceration rate in the country, and the highest female incarceration rate. The cost per year for such a system is $500 million annually, and with the budget in its current state, we simply can't afford that. It is unsustainable, irresponsible, and wrong.
We also support criminal justice reform because it is morally the right thing to do. So many people should not have their lives destroyed for making a singular mistake. Humans deserve second chances, and these two state questions would help create an environment in our state that fosters reconciliation, rehabilitation, and a belief in human dignity.
As Christians we are called to protect and uphold the dignity of God's creation as it is found both in humans and in the environment. All four of these State Questions have the ability either to deny that dignity, as is the case with SQ 776 and 777, or uphold that dignity, which SQ 780 and 781 are crafted to do. The stewardship we are entrusted with encompasses all aspects of our lives, from caring for God's creation to believing in second chances. God is love, and we are commanded to live out that love.
Social Justice Ministry Liaison
Oklahoma Conference of Churches