Oklahoma pastors wear hooded sweatshirts during worship to protest discriminatory law
In place of their stoles and robes, pastors across Oklahoma will wear hooded sweatshirts during their sermons this Sunday. The change in attire is an effort to protest a piece of state legislation that further stigmatizes the “hoodie” and the people who wear them. The Rev. Chris Moore, pastor of Fellowship Congregational United Church of Christ in Tulsa, says his church is participating in the protest on Jan. 18 as a way to stand in solidarity with those who feel singled out by the proposed law, and to drive home the fact that the Oklahoma legislature should focus its efforts on more pressing matters.
“We’ve made the claim that we are allies to our African American brothers and sisters, many who have expressed outrage and deep concern about this legislation and feel they are being targeted,” said Moore, who is white. “Here we sit in a state that ranks 48th in education, has huge issues with poverty and health care, and this is what we’re spending our time on. We should be advocating for real social issues.”
The legislation in question is Senate Bill 13, which would make it illegal to wear a robe, mask or hood in public to conceal a person’s identity while intending to commit a crime. The bill would be an addendum to a law already on the books that makes it illegal in Oklahoma to wear a robe, mask or hood while committing a crime or for the purpose of coercion, intimidation or harassment. The bill was proposed by Sen. Don Barrington (R-Okla.), who has cited concerns about masked protestors outside the state capitol.
One of the main concerns expressed by Moore and other clergy is the law’s vagueness. While hooded sweatshirts are not specifically called out in the legislation, Moore says it makes him and others suspect that something like a hoodie could fall under the law’s umbrella. If passed, the law would also give police the responsibility of determining whether or not a person wearing something like a hooded sweatshirt is intending to commit a crime. Moore says this is just asking for more race-related incidents like what took place last summer in Ferguson, Mo.
“There’s a lot of subjectivity to the law that is very concerning about who gets to make the decision about when you’re concealing your identity and when you’re not,” Moore said. “This is not an anti-police effort, of course, but it is going to place the responsibility in the hands of police to make a subjective call on something that is unfair to make. It’s setting us all up – cops, criminals and people who aren’t criminals.”
Edith Guffey, conference minister of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference of the UCC, says Senate Bill 13 is a “laughable distraction.” Like Moore, she wishes the Oklahoma legislature was more concerned with the state’s real problems, such as D+ school ratings, a household poverty rate of 15.6 percent, and a 2014 ranking as the second worse place to live in the United States by CNBC.
“Does anyone think that the Trayvon Martins of Oklahoma, the police, or anyone else is going to be safer because hoodies are outlawed?” said Guffey. “I think a culture of guns, violence, stereotyping of people based on what they wear or how they look, and racial profiling are the culprits – not the hoodie.”
The ecumenical protest effort was organized by a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor in Oklahoma City and will also see participation from the Methodists. There is a “Wear a Hoodie at Church Sunday” Facebook page, and people are encouraged to use hashtags, such as #OKMarchon, #HoodieSunday and #BlackLivesMatter, when discussing the event on social media. Organizers are hoping that at least 100 pastors from across Oklahoma will preach in a hoodie this Sunday, which happens to be the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“A lot of the comments we’ve heard is, ‘Why is the church getting involved with something like this,’ and ‘Stick to the gospel,’ which are the same kinds of complaints Dr. King heard,” Moore said. “For us, it’s another chance to address racial issues that are clearly systemic in our culture. The deepest roots are the hardest to get to.”
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