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Oklahoma AG John O'Connor draws scrutiny after reportedly advocating for a 'God-based nation'

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Chris Polansky / KWGS News
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Gov. Kevin Stitt (at lectern) introduces John O'Connor as his choice to replace former Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter at a press conference in Tulsa on July 23, 2021.

Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor's reported endorsement of a national legal system based on theology is an affront to the Bill of Rights and the separation of church and state, according to a secular advocacy group.

"You took an oath to defend our godless Constitution, whose First Amendment ensures not only that the government may not establish a religion, but also that public officials cannot impose their personal religious beliefs upon their constituents," Freedom From Religion Foundation legal fellow Karen Heineman wrote in a Monday letter to O'Connor.

"Your comments show that you misunderstand how our Constitution protects individual religious freedom while seeking to violate those very protections," Heineman wrote.

The letter stems from a Sand Springs Leader article published Saturday, which quotes O'Connor as telling the Sand Springs Rotary Club that "there's no such thing as an ideal godless America," that the legal system "has to be based... on God the creator," and that he believes Americans must stand "very vigorously... in favor of a God-based country."

O'Connor communications director Rachel Roberts confirmed the office was in receipt of the letter, but declined further comment.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religious Foundation, told Public Radio Tulsa by phone on Monday that the language alarmed her.

"His stance is ignorant and anti-Bill of Rights, and coming off the week after the anniversary of Jan. 6, it's rather frightening to see these statements being made by him," Gaylor said, referring to the first anniversary of the pro-Trump attack on the United States Capitol, during which some in the mob espoused Christian nationalist ideology.

"There are many people who are not Christian, at least 20%, in Oklahoma, most of them not religious," Gaylor said. "And they are good citizens and have the right to be represented by an attorney general who believes in equal justice under the law."

O'Connor was appointed attorney general by Gov. Kevin Stitt following the abrupt resignation of Mike Hunter, who left the AG post following reports of an extramarital affair.

In 2018, the American Bar Association issued an uncommon "not qualified" rating for O'Connor, following his nomination to a federal judgeship by President Donald Trump. An association committee unanimously found O'Connor to lack the "integrity" and "professional competence" necessary for a federal judge.

"The consensus based on confidential peer review is that Mr. O’Connor lacks sufficient litigation experience, going to the depth and breadth of his law practice to date. His judgment was also found to be deficient," according to a letter explaining the "not qualified" rating.