A measure that would protect the traditional holiday season of Christmas and Hanukkah passed out of the House of Representatives Monday evening.
House Bill 2317, also known as the “Merry Christmas” bill, won approval by a 73-10 vote.
The measure would allow for schools to celebrate Christmas and use religious-based imagery such as nativity scenes alongside other displays such as Christmas trees. It would also allow school faculty and staff to use traditional greetings such as “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” without fear of reprisal.
Rep. Ken Walker presented the bill in committee. He is co-authoring the measure along with Reps. Bob Cleveland, R-Slaughterville; and Donnie Condit, D-McAlester. Rep. Cleveland presented the measure on the House floor.
“I’m pleased to know my colleagues in the Oklahoma House of Representatives support this measure as strongly as I do,” said Rep. Walker, R-Tulsa. “The intention of this bill is to reinforce our parents and teachers who believe they should be able to express their beliefs and celebrate winter traditions without fear of a lawsuit coming down on them.”
“There’s a war on Christmas,” Cleveland said. “Why do we call a Christmas Tree a Holiday Tree if there’s not a war on Christmas? I believe this bill has an important cultural significance and gives much-needed guidance to our school districts. Christmas has been recognized as a federal holiday since 1870. This bill does not force schools, staff or students to endorse a particular religion. The law specifically states that displays may not include a message that encourages an adherence to a particular religious belief. HB 2317 will provide students, parents and teachers a safe harbor for opening celebrating a federal holiday, freeing them from the fear of litigation or retribution.”
This measure has received statewide and national attention, with Rep. Walker speaking about HB 2317 on Neil Cavuto’s Fox News Channel show in December. In addition, the measure has garnered attention on Facebook, as the “Oklahoma Merry Christmas Bill” page has over 10,000 likes.
Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, director of the Chabad Community Center for Jewish Life and Learning, said he stands behind the legislation.
“As in our Pledge of Allegiance, this is one nation under God,” Rabbi Goldman said. “Any time we can bring the concept and the idea of sovereignty under God to the citizens of Oklahoma it’s always a great ideal. I definitely stand behind anything that encourages all citizens in Oklahoma to recognize the sovereignty of God, the blessings of God, that this country has been founded upon and through his blessings will continue to be exceptionally great.”
The bill now heads to the state Senate for consideration.
Rep. John Bennett said today the Ninth Circuit Court has made a blatant attack on First Amendment rights in their ruling on Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School Dist.
“As a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who has taken an oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution and all that America and our flag stands for, I am completely disgusted by another blatant attack by a court on the First Amendment,” said Bennett, R-Sallisaw. “The Ninth Circuit Court has ruled that a public school can ban the American flag on school grounds and even display other flags in its place.”
The unanimous three-judge panel said schools can curb civil rights to ensure campus safety and in the case had sufficient and justifiable reasons for their actions.
The court points out that the rights of students in public high schools are limited and that student speech could be restricted if school authorities foresee disruption stemming from the speech.
“The school’s poor policy decision was affirmed by an already confirmed liberal-minded Ninth Circuit,” Bennett said. “It’s an unbelievable strike at the First Amendment. In legalese, this is called a heckler’s veto. This is when a heckler, the opponent of a particular viewpoint, is able to threaten violence or cause such a disruption that the authorities shut down the viewpoint with which they disagree. In other words, they win. They don’t like a viewpoint; they cause a ruckus; and that viewpoint they didn’t like gets silenced.”
Ironically, a heckler’s veto is unconstitutional, according to the Ninth Circuit Court.
A previous case by the court famously states that “[n]either students [n]or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
“I want to be very clear, because I can already see that I might be labeled racist or a bigot,” Bennett said. “This has nothing to do with the substance of the free speech I think should be protected. There is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating Cinco de Mayo in public school. There is absolutely nothing wrong with students displaying the Mexican flag, the British flag, or any other flag. We have a rich cultural history in America. America was built on diversity and I agree we are a melting pot of ideas, backgrounds and interests. I don’t object to the flags of other countries being displayed. I simply object to the premise that the American flag can rightfully be shunned. We are Americans and our schools and courts should not trample over a symbol of our nation.
“I encourage citizens to join the ACLJ. They are preparing to file a friend-of-the-court brief defending the American flag and patriotic free speech. Already thousands of Americans have signed on to the brief; join them today by calling the petition hotline at 1-877-989-2255.”
A measure that would allow law enforcement to seize assets used to smuggle illegal aliens cleared the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
House Bill 1436, by Rep. Mike Turner, would create a new felony for smuggling human beings for profit or commercial purposes and would allow law enforcement to seize assets – particularly vehicles, airplanes and vessels – used in the commission of human smuggling activities.
“There are thousands of smuggling operations that transport illegal immigrants into this country and harbor them from detection,” said Turner, R-Edmond. “Because of Interstates 40 and 35, Oklahoma has become the crossroads in the war on smuggling illegals into this country, and we need to use the force of law to cripple these activities. Many of these smuggling rings are multimillion dollar operations with a lot of assets at their disposal that we should be seizing and preventing from being used to further these crimes.”
The measure would also require companies in Oklahoma that benefit from tax credits or incentives to use the E-Verify program to confirm that their employees are legally allowed to work in the United States.
“I feel confident that a majority of Oklahomans would be troubled to know that their tax dollars are supporting through tax incentives at least some companies with questionable hiring practices,” said Turner, R-Edmond. “We have to be very careful stewards of the tax dollars we coerce from our citizens, and we certainly shouldn’t be using those tax dollars to incentivize companies to break the law by hiring workers who are in this country illegally.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website, E-Verify is “a voluntary internet-based program to help employers verify the work authorization of new hires.” The website also notes that, as of November 2012, at least 20 states currently require the use of E-Verify for at least some public and/or private employers.
Finally, the bill would prohibit municipalities from operating as “sanctuary cities” to protect illegal aliens. The bill would prohibit governmental bodies from limiting or restricting the enforcement of federal immigration laws, which would thwart cities and counties from becoming safe havens for illegal immigrants.
“A study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform from 2013 found that approximately 103 cities, towns and counties across the United States have already passed resolutions, ordinances and executive actions aimed at directly defying federal immigration enforcement efforts,” said Turner. “I find that shocking, and I want to ensure that no Oklahoma towns and counties think they can just unilaterally shelter illegal aliens.”
State Sen. Ralph Shortey is the Senate author of the bill and praised Rep. Turner’s efforts to get the bill passed out of committee.
“This issue has been a central priority for me as a legislator, and I’m proud to see the committee act to address it with this measure,” said Shortey, R-Oklahoma City. “As lawmakers, we need to do everything we can to protect citizens and be serious about the enforcement of immigration law. I’m thankful to Representative Turner for his efforts to bring this back into the conversation at the Capitol.”
Michael Behenna, the Army 1st Lieutenant from Edmond being held in the military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, has been paroled effective March 14th.
A Washington source said the family just received word of the action.
Behenna, who was convicted of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone, learned early Wednesday morning and called his parents in Edmond, where he will return next month.
“We go between tears and laughing,” Vicki Behenna told The Oklahoman. “I’m just so thankful. I’m just so very very thankful. It’s wonderful.”
From The Oklahoman: His parents, Vicki and Scott, and brother Brett appeared last month before the U.S. Army Clemency and Parole Board outside Washington and presented the members with a 400-page report that included a letter from Michael, letters of support from Gov. Mary Fallin and members of the congressional delegation and law enforcement officials.
The family told the board that Michael would work on a western Oklahoma cattle ranch and take classes at Oklahoma State University in ranch operations.
“They came and got him about 7:30 this morning and gave him a letter to read,” Vicki Behenna said. “The letter said his request for clemency (a reduction in sentence) had been denied but that his request for parole had been granted.”
She said, “I think he’s in shock. I started crying immediately when he told me. Of course over the phone I can’t see his expression. He would kind of go, ‘Yeah, it’s good, mom. It’s good.”
Here’s background, from an earlier editorial in The Oklahoman:
Behenna was convicted in 2009 of killing a suspected Iraqi terrorist named Ali Mansur, who was believed to have had a hand in a roadside bombing that killed two of Behenna’s men. Behenna testified at his court-martial that he shot Mansur after the man, who had been stripped during an interrogation, threw a piece of concrete at him and lunged for Behenna’s gun.
His conviction on a charge of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone was upheld by two military appeals courts. His original 25-year sentence was cut to 15 years, but the idea Behenna could serve the entire time for this crime is distressing.
Behenna, 30, was a model soldier and terrific leader. What happened that day in Iraq doesn’t make him a hero — he has never sought that title. It also doesn’t make him a coldblooded killer who should spend the most productive years of his life in a prison cell.
We’re convinced politics played a role in his sentence. At the time, the U.S. needed to show little tolerance for those who crossed the line in combat. The prison holding Behenna is home to other soldiers similarly ensnared. Other U.S. military personnel convicted of worse crimes — but at a different time during the Iraq War — are free men today or serving much lesser sentences.
Behenna comes from great stock. His mother is a federal prosecutor. His dad is a former investigator with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. His brother works as an Oklahoma County prosecutor. They long to have their son and brother home, where a job awaits and graduate school plans are in the works.
A dispute over a very valuable painting nearly got the Assistant Majority Leader in Oklahoma’s House of Representatives arrested Friday outside the Warren Theatre in Moore.
Paul Wesselhoft represents the Moore district, and is a retired Army Chaplain who served all over the world. He says a more than century-old French painting called “Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep”, that hangs in the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, is an embarrassment to OU.
Wesselhoft says that painting was among works of art that were stolen by the Nazi’s during Hitler’s occupation of France during World War II. He says the daughter of the Frenchman who is the rightful owner of the painting is suing OU to get it back, and she should.
Wesselhoft was handing out petitions in front of Moore’s Warren Theatre Friday, until police arrived and told him he had to leave or he would be arrested for trespassing.
The new movie “The Monuments Men” just opened at the Warren. The movie is about heroic Americans who raced against time to retrieve stolen artifacts from the Nazi’s during World War II. Wesselhoft says it’s time for OU to do the right thing.
“I’m sure it’s worth millions of dollars perhaps, but it’s the right moral thing for OU to give it back because they know who the owner is.”
OU released a statement Friday basically saying the University is following the litigation “closely,” and is anxious to see the dispute resolved soon.
Rep. Paul Wesselhoft today continued his fight over artwork stolen by the Nazis in World War II.
Wesselhoft writes, “I will be at the Warren Theater at 2:20 & 5:20 PM protesting and handing out the flyer below for those attending, The Monuments Men. This is a story of how Jewish art was looted by the Nazis in WWII; and how the The Momuments Men risked their lives to retrieve the art.
“We ought to encourage the University of Oklahoma to return ‘Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep,’ to the rightful Jewish owner, Leone Meyer, the daughter of Raoul Meyer.
“The Nazis stole this beautiful impressionist painting by Camille Pissarro during the occupation of France during WWII.
“Please call, write or email President David Boren and encourage him to return this art to its rightful owner, especially in light of the significant theme of the movie, The Monuments Men.
“Yes, we understand that there is an antiquated court ruling in Switzerland, which denied the painting to the rightful owners because the established timeframe to make the claim expired. Apparently O.U. is legally respecting that court decision. This whole court ruling is arbitrary and unclear.
“What is clear is the moral implication involved: O.U. knows who the rightful owner is; and they are refusing to be pro active, bountiful gracious, and morally circumspect, and return this painting to the Jewish family from which it was plundered.
“Until this painting is returned to the rightful owner, we ought not visit the university’s Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art. I trust this great university will do the right and moral thing.”
Wesselhoft was told by Moore police to leave the theater at the second showing. He did so to avoid arrest.