OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – An out-of-state organization has opened an investigation into the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s partnership with conservative nonprofit, PragerU.
According to PragerU’s website, the nonprofit is not an accredited university. The organization doesn’t offer degrees, “but we do provide educational, entertaining, pro-American videos for every age.”
The Oklahoma State Department of Education announced a partnership with PragerU in September.
“We are very concerned because PragerU isn’t a university like its name might imply. It’s not even an accredited educational institution. It is a propaganda mill that is imposing a Christian Nationalist and religious extremist and politically ultraconservative agenda on our children and trying to do so increasingly in our public schools. That’s where we get into a church, state separation problem,” stated Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) CEO, Rachel Laser.
Because of AU’s concerns with PragerU, it has opened an investigation into the state’s partnership with PragerU.
AU has requested all public records detailing communications with and about PragerU, as well as records pertaining to the review process the state department used to vet and approve the use of PragerU materials in public schools.
As of Friday, PragerU resources are not required in Oklahoma classrooms. It is optional.
However, AU is criticizing the resources available. The organization’s website details the below examples.
- “Street Smarts: The Bill of Rights”: This video includes the “fun fact” that the literal words “separation of church and state” aren’t in the Constitution, but fails to explain how the principle of church-state separation is embedded in the First Amendment.
- “Craftory: God Bless America Ornament”: This video presents Americans’ right to religious freedom as being granted by the God of the “Hebrew and Christian Bibles.” The video further claims “America was founded on what’s called Judeo-Christian values” that are “at the very core of who America is.”
- “Leo & Layla’s History Adventures with George Washington”: This video includes an imagined meeting with the country’s first president in which he emphasizes the need for America to have “a religious and moral population.”
- “Craftory: American Trinity Platter”: This video presents the phrase “In God We Trust” as one third of the “trinity American values,” alongside e pluribus unum and liberty.
- Videos including “Guess or Mess: John D. Rockefeller,” “Leo & Layla Meet Christopher Columbus,” “India: Priya Overcomes Adversity” and “TBH History Russian Revolution: The Rise of Communism” praise several controversial historical figures or actions for their Christian beliefs or for spreading Christianity through colonialism.
“This non profit organization that has nothing to do with themselves has launched an investigation on PragerU because they are so upset about one of our craftory videos that teaches young Americans how to create a Christmas ornament. You can’t make this stuff up. The other video they’re so upset about is George Washington speaking about how it is important that we have a religious and moral population,” PragerU CEO, Marissa Streit told KFOR on Friday. “I would say investigate away. I mean, let’s have all Americans investigate PragerU so they can actually watch our content and bring some common sense back to America. You just can’t make this stuff up.”
Streit said religion and the Bible should be taught in public schools because both are part of the fabric of the American experiment.
The constitution does not explicitly say “separation of church and state.” However, the First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
News 4 asked Streit how PragerU interprets that quote from the First Amendment. She deferred News 4 to a video on PragerU’s page.
“Anybody who wants to understand the nuance and the intricacy and actually get some clarity on separation of church and state or what that phrase has turned into in our culture, go and watch that video,” said Streit.
“Our children deserve better. Our children deserve to learn true facts and true history,” said Laser.
Streit said AU being upset with PragerU’s teachings is proof their resources should be available to educators.
“The fact they are freaking out over it [being] made available is appalling. I think that, in fact, this organization itself should be investigated into why are they bullying teachers against teaching that America is a great place and that Western civilization has worked,” added Streit.
News 4 has confirmed through an open records request PragerU and OSDE have been collaborating since at least June.
Streit said PragerU reached out to OSDE first.
“We contact the Superintendent or the state commissioners, and we say, ‘We’re here to serve,'” stated Streit. “Our shows are very effective in teaching young learners, and we basically say, ‘Why don’t you make it as an option and leave it up to the schools and the teachers to decide which pieces of our content they like? And usually the answer is yes. So that’s how it happened in Florida, and it will continue to happen around the country.”
News 4 requested all written communication from OSDE mentioning ‘PragerU.’ We were sent 336 pages, most of which were newsletters promoting the non profit.
“We’re waiting for the information to come. But who we have heard from are so many Oklahomans on the ground who were so relieved that we’re opening this investigation. [They’re] concerned for their children to have to be subject to the whims of a teacher who decides that they’re going to use one of these videos that is imposing one narrow religious view on their children,” said Laser. “We will not stop until we protect the religious freedom of all families in Oklahoma. That’s our mission. That’s why we exist.”
When asked if AU has requested a meeting with OSDE or State Superintendent Ryan Walters, Laser said Walters is “flagrantly hostile to our group.”
“We would be delighted if he wanted to indicate any openness to the problematic nature of imposing religion through the machinations of the state in our public schools,” she added.
News 4 has reached out to OSDE for a statement in response to the investigation. Once again, we did not hear back.
In News 4’s open records request regarding PragerU, some written communication from OSDE to PragerU seemed to not be included. We have made another request for that information, but it has not been fulfilled yet.