Religion News Service

In a red state, the culture war shifts

Voters still care about traditional values, but there is growing anger over underfunded schools and crumbling infrastructure.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

EDMOND, Okla. (RNS) In one of the reddest of the red states, appeals to traditional values have long resonated with many voters.

But while lawmakers in this Bible Belt state of 3.9 million have been debating proposals to criminalize abortion, police students’ access to public bathrooms and impeach President Obama, Oklahomans are increasingly concerned about a burgeoning budget crisis that threatens public education and other critical state services.

The crisis has led some public schools to start summer vacation several days early. Others are contemplating a four-day week to cut costs. And more than 200 teachers in Oklahoma City were handed pink slips in March.

State Sen. David Holt, an Oklahoma City Republican, said he was “ashamed” of the hours spent debating transgender restroom use at the expense of his constituents’ real concerns.

“Oklahoma is a very socially conservative state, and I have always supported the types of bills that have come to the legislature, because my constituency largely wants me to,” Holt said. “But while students in my district were quite literally marching in the streets to the Capitol to plead with the legislature to do something about how the budget shortfall will affect their schools, we were addressing something that virtually no one had contacted me about and that was arguably not a pressing issue.”

About the same time lawmakers considered the bathroom bill that drew Holt’s concern, a group of pastors pushed for the adoption of legislation that would make it a felony to perform an abortion.

“God’s word tells us very clearly that he’s for life, that he knit us together in our mothers’ wombs,” said one of the clergymen, Blake Gideon of the 4,000-member First Baptist Church in this affluent suburb north of Oklahoma City.

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Religion News Service is a national wire service whose media partners include The Associated Press, USA Today and the Washington Post.

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