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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

November 6, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Tulsa World. Nov. 5, 2018.

— Vian school board allows Native American students to wear eagle feathers in graduation ceremonies

We commend the Vian School Board for its decision to allow Native American students to wear eagle feathers to graduation ceremonies.

The district refused a Cherokee student’s request to wear an eagle feather at the end-of-school ceremony last year and was considering doing the same thing with a second student this year.

The Cherokee Nation got involved in the issue. While conceding that a federal court had found in a previous comparable case that refusing to allow eagle feathers at graduation was not a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom, the tribe said Vian should accommodate the student’s religious traditions because it is the right thing to do.

State records from 2016 show 41 percent of Vian students are Native American.

The deciding voice turned out to be that of Attorney General Mike Hunter, who wrote a formal letter to the school board, pointing out that the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act “generally requires public schools to permit Cherokee students to engage in the spiritual practice of wearing eagle feathers to important events, such as graduations.”

When it read Hunter’s letter, the school board made room for the eagle feather at graduation.

Tribe officials said they hope Vian’s decision, and the attorney general’s stance, will influence other school districts to allow feathers at important events. We do, too.

Where will it all stop, some have asked. Will we allow absolutely anyone of any faith to celebrate their graduation with the emblem of their beliefs?

Well, would it truly be all that bad? Allowing the young adults of Oklahoma to celebrate their academic accomplishments, their beliefs and their diversity? As they move into the next stage of life, escaping from the regimentation of school rules with a nod to their religious beliefs is healthy and appropriate; and, as it turns out — at least in the case of eagle feathers and Native American students — protected by state law.

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Enid News & Eagle. Nov. 5, 2018.

— Drivers need to show patience, Chestnut under Van Buren overpass to be closed this week.

Drivers will have to make some adjustments in the coming days to deal with the work to replace the North Van Buren overpass over the BNSF Railway tracks.

Traffic on the overpass already is limited to one lane each way — both on the west side of the structure. Oklahoma Department of Transportation will take down the east side first and rebuild it, before moving traffic to that side in order to rebuild the other half.

The demolition work will affect Chestnut, which goes under the overpass. Beginning Wednesday, Chestnut will be closed, ODOT officials said, to allow for removal of the bridge deck. Work is expected to be completed by Friday.

City of Enid engineering officials said Chestnut will be accessible by way of Poplar, intersecting with Van Buren and the west frontage road.

The $10.9 million contract for the work was awarded by ODOT in June to Bridges Inc. doing business as Scudder Bridge Co. of Newton, Kansas. There’s a 15-month estimate for construction to be complete.

The work definitely is needed. The bridge was built in 1957 and has been deemed structurally deficient. It’s also on one of the busiest streets in Enid. Van Buren is a key north-south route through Enid.

At last count, some 14,600 vehicles drive over the bridge each day.

So far, there really haven’t been many issues with Van Buren being narrowed to two lanes at the overpass. Drivers have adapted and will continue to adapt, as the work progresses. The closure of Chestnut will add another wrinkle.

Enid drivers have faced a lot of challenges, with the lengthy process to widen West Willow, and the continued work on Cleveland around the intersection with Chestnut.

We urge patience and a little planning.

It may take a little longer if you use Van Buren. And, with Chestnut closed for a few days, people may need to adjust their routes.

But, it will be worth it when the work is done.

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The Oklahoman. Nov. 6, 2018.

— Social media giants’ record not improving

Following the 2016 election, it became clear social media sites had been used to spread false information, including bogus ads placed by foreign entities. Social media companies promised to clean up their act, but the events of the 2018 campaign cycle suggest that was more lip service than serious commitment.

Social media sites continued to promote paid advertisements with little basis in reality. And when tech companies did reject ads, the decisions appeared driven by partisanship, not any combating of false claims.

The most notable rejection occurred earlier this year when Elizabeth Heng, a Republican congressional candidate in California, tried to place a video ad that provided her basic biography and platform. The video, titled “Great things come from great adversity,” began with the story of her parents’ escape from the Cambodian genocide, illustrated by historic photos. Facebook refused to place the ad, saying it violated the company’s advertising policies, which ban ads that contain “shocking” content or depict “violence or threats of violence.” Twitter also banned the ad, saying it had “inappropriate” content.

That produced well-deserved blowback since both social media giants were banning an ad for distributing accurate historical information. The companies soon backed down.

Contrast the scrutiny Heng’s ad received with that given to another ad distributed in the final days of the 2018 campaign. It warned hunters that if they voted in North Dakota’s elections, “you may forfeit licenses you have in other states.” That was news to North Dakota’s secretary of state and the state’s wildlife department. The ad was traced to the North Dakota Democratic Party; the state’s incumbent Democratic U.S. senator was in a tough re-election race.

Facebook verified the hunter ad, even though it contained false information and may have violated election laws since it appeared designed to suppress voter turnout. One wonders how Facebook officials could look at the ad and not blink, given how improbable its claims were, yet conclude that the child of Cambodian immigrants discussing her family’s history was inappropriate.

The hunter ad wasn’t the only instance of ridiculous content getting by the supposedly heightened review of social media giants.

Vice News, posing as a political ad-buyer, received Facebook’s approval to run ads in the name of all 100 members of the U.S. Senate. Vice News also received approval from Facebook to run ads “paid for” by Islamic State and Vice President Mike Pence. Again, how is it that such ads don’t raise red flags with Facebook reviewers when other ads that are far more innocuous are declared problematic?

In June, when Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation released survey information on Americans’ views of media, the poll found U.S. adults believe that 62 percent of news in newspapers, television or radio is biased, 44 percent is inaccurate, and more than a third is misinformation. But the ratings for social media outlets were worse. Americans said they believed 80 percent of news seen on social media is biased, 64 percent is inaccurate, and 65 percent is misinformation.

The tech giants did little to improve those perceptions during the 2018 election season.

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