Senate Acts: Bullard advances Religious Freedom Act, Standridge bill targets social media censorship
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Published: 14-Mar-2021
Staff Report 

OKLAHOMA CITY – Last week at the state Legislature, two Republicans guided to Senate approval measures with widespread support and grassroots advocacy. 

On Thursday (March 11), the Senate voted overwhelmingly to protect churches as essential in the state of Oklahoma. Senate Bill 368, by David Bullard, R-Durant, creates the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act, prohibiting declaration of religious institutions as nonessential.

The full Senate also approved legislation by Sen. Rob Standridge allowing social media users to sue for damages against any social media website that censors a user’s political or religious speech. Standridge’s Senate Bill 383 would eliminate selective censorship of opinion on social media and seek to ensure free speech is treated fairly. 

Concerning his measure, Sen. Bullard said in a press release sent to CapitolBeatOK.com and other news organizations, “The U.S. Constitution guarantees our freedom of religion and clearly states that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof’,” Bullard said. “Unfortunately, many churches around our state and nation were unconstitutionally mandated to limit their religious services and told what they could and couldn’t do in their own buildings. We must fight for our freedom and our faith, and I want to thank the Senate for joining me in protecting Oklahomans’ rights.”

S.B. 368 prohibits any governmental entity from declaring or deeming a religious institution and any activity directly related to the institution’s discharge of its mission and purpose to be nonessential. Additionally, it prohibits the closure of such institutions for health or security purposes if those actions are greater than what is imposed on any private entity facing the same or similar health or security conditions.

The bill will next be heard in the House where Rep. Tom Gann, R-Inola, is the principal House author.

As for the anti-censorship measure, Sen. Standridge said in a separate release, “Oklahomans throughout the state are fed up with liberal, multi-billion dollar tech companies trying to promote their ideology by censoring and deleting posts supporting conservative views. The free exchange of ideas is being suppressed, and it flies in the face of our right to free speech. Citizens should be able to have an opportunity to pursue civil recourse.”

Under S.B. 383, users in the state could sue any owner or operator of a social media website that purposely censors a user’s political or religious speech. The measure applies to deleted posts or the use of algorithms to suppress such speech. 
Websites would be immune from liability if any censored posts called for immediate acts of violence or enticed criminal conduct. It would also exempt posts involved in bullying minors, false impersonation or those from an inauthentic source. The measure does not apply to individual users who censor the speech of other users.

Users above the age 18 could seek damages of a minimum of $75,000 per intentional deletion or censoring of that user’s speech, along with actual damages and punitive damages if aggravating factors are present. The prevailing party may also be awarded costs and reasonable attorney fees.

S.B. 383 now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration. Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, is principal House author of S.B. 383.

For both the House and Senate, last week was (with limited procedural exceptions) the deadline for the respective chambers to advance proposed new laws for initial consideration in the other

Note: Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report. 

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