Roundup of Oklahoma editorials

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Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Journal Record, Sept. 22, 2014

Breeding bigotry

State Rep. John Bennett, a Sallisaw Republican, is using old rhetoric to breed hatred and fear.

Bennett came under fire when he encouraged his Facebook friends to be wary of Muslim-Americans. On Sept. 15, he defended his view to a group of supporters at a Western Sizzlin in his district.

"Their goal is the destruction of Western civilization from within," he said. "This is a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out."

Bennett went on to say that Americans need to share Jesus' story: ". love others and stand for freedom."

Bennett has missed the idea that "Muslim" and "terrorist" are not synonymous. That's like saying that all Catholics are members of the Irish Republican Army or that all Baptists belong to the Ku Klux Klan.

An estimated 32 percent of the world's population is affiliated with a Christian faith. Those 2 billion Christians are declining in number, while 22 percent, about 1.5 billion people and growing, are adherents of Islam. Consider, for perspective, that there are only about 14.5 million Jews.

Bennett also missed the point of that story he wants to spread. No one quoted Jesus saying, "Love others except this group over here," or "Love others, but wipe them out."

Bennett's characterization of Muslim-Americans reminds us of the rhetoric from genocidal dictators.

"We have the moral right, we had the duty to our people to do it, to kill this people who wanted to kill us." Heinrich Himmler said that on Oct. 4, 1943, in Posen, Poland.

Two days later, still speaking to Nazi Party leaders, he said: "We were faced with the question: what about the women and children? I decided to find a clear solution to this problem, too. I did not consider myself justified to exterminate the men - in other words, to kill them or have them killed and allow the avengers of our sons and grandsons in the form of their children to grow up. The difficult decision had to be made to have this people disappear from the earth."

When a politician starts calling on his constituents to "cut out a cancer" — a cancer he defines as all members of particular religious group — he is fueling irrational fear.

America must of course protect itself from bona fide threats. But to promulgate bigotry and violence is irresponsible. And dangerous.

We have no sympathy for terrorists, no matter their religion. But we must not apply that label based on where someone worships.


The Oklahoman, Sept. 22, 2014

Death penalty treated seriously in Oklahoma interim study

Oklahoma was a trailblazer in the use of one form of execution — lethal injection. Could it play that role again with the use of nitrogen?

A legislative study requested by Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, reviewed the potential merits of using nitrogen to execute death row inmates in Oklahoma. To state lawmakers' credit, this study was conducted with appropriate seriousness. There was reason to worry it might instead turn into a forum for grandstanding, partly because of Christian's own past comments and actions.

In April, Christian called for the impeachment of Oklahoma Supreme Court justices who supported a temporary stay of execution for Clayton Derrell Lockett. "I realize this may sound harsh, but as a father and former lawman, I really don't care if it's by lethal injection, by the electric chair, firing squad, hanging, guillotine or being fed to the lions," Christian, a former state trooper, said then. "I look forward to justice being served."

Yet the problems that occurred during Lockett's execution, once it did move forward, prompted renewed national debate about the death penalty and led Christian to request a review. When he filed that request in June, Christian said the study would explore the idea of giving condemned prisoners the option of death by firing squad, hanging or the electric chair, with firing squads made the primary, default option.

Under current Oklahoma law, if lethal injection is declared unconstitutional, the state switches to electrocution. If both those methods are declared unconstitutional, a firing squad becomes the default option. Only Oklahoma and Utah still technically allow the use of a firing squad for executions. But the firing squad has been used just a handful of times since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976; those executions occurred in Utah.

Despite Christian's past "fed to the lions" rhetoric, he appears to have put serious thought into this issue. At the House study, he shifted focus from using firing squads to using nitrogen for executions. Faculty members from East Central University discussed research on nitrogen hypoxia.

A 1961 study involving human volunteers who hyperventilated on nitrogen found that subjects lost consciousness after just 20 seconds and reported no physical discomfort. There is little sense of suffocation involved. Many euthanasia organizations reportedly support the use of nitrogen gas.

The use of nitrogen would eliminate the need to find execution drugs for lethal injection, which has become increasingly difficult. And the process of administering an execution would be much simpler.

Those are good selling points. Still, it's reasonable to wonder: Why has no other state adopted this method of execution if it's superior? In 1977, Oklahoma became the first state to adopt lethal injection as a means of execution, although Texas was ultimately the first state to employ the procedure. But that was a different era. Being the first state to authorize a new execution method today would undoubtedly prompt numerous legal challenges, increasing taxpayer costs and slowing executions once again.

This is a debate with no easy answers, no cure-all for logistical challenges, and no permanent consensus achievable regarding the ultimate morality of the death penalty and its practical application. But state lawmakers, Christian in particular, deserve credit for taking a serious, thoughtful approach to this ultimate application of government power.


Muskogee Phoenix, Sept. 22, 2014

Don't place more burdens on employers

Balancing the rights of crime victims' families and the right of employers to operate businesses without undue government intrusion is difficult task.

It is even more difficult to say that Oklahoma legislators must resist the urge to create a law that protects families of crime victims.

But state lawmakers must err in favor of businesses in this case.

Michael and Faye Taylor, the father and stepmother of 23-year-old Ashley Taylor, want Oklahoma legislators to create a law that strengthens the rights of victims' families.

Michael and Faye Taylor have had to burn through their vacation time in order to attend court proceedings involving the alleged killer of their daughter.

The Taylors hope legislators will create a law that prevents businesses from terminating or demoting employees who must miss work to attend court proceedings regarding loved ones who were victimized by crime.

The idea sounds much like the Family Medical Leave Act.

The Family Medical Leave Act provides time off without pay for those people who must attend to the illness of a close family member.

FMLA prevents employers from terminating or demoting employees for a designated amount of time.

There are strict parameters to apply FMLA.

But another law that does the same thing, but for family members of crime victims, is pushing the envelope too far.

It creates too much of a burden on businesses — particularly small businesses — to bear when an employee is out for extended or frequent periods of time.

The tragedy that befalls the victims of crime and their families is real.

The judicial system can be slow and grinding.

It can take months and years for victims to receive justice in our court system.

Victims deserve the support of their families.

And empathy is important for business owners to show their employees.

But empathy should not be required by law.

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