A Call to Courage and Compassion: An Open Letter to Oklahoma’s College and University Presidents

Dear Oklahoma College and University Presidents,

The Governor of Oklahoma and the Republican Oklahoma Legislature did not have the well-being of our colleges and universities in mind when they created a law banning the ability to require masking on our campuses in the midst of a deadly global pandemic that has already claimed the lives of nearly 9,000 Oklahomans. This is even more obvious now that we are experiencing the most dangerous period of the pandemic for young people thus far with the more contagious Delta variant filling our hospitals and our ICUs with persons of all ages.

For the sake of the health and the very lives of our students, faculty, and staff; you must defy the Governor and the Republican Legislature and require masks and social distancing in all indoor public spaces on our campuses in accordance with CDC and World Health Organization guidance. Anything less is a moral failure.

As Augustine of Hippo reminds us, “an unjust law is no law at all,” and a law that puts the health and lives of thousands of persons in our colleges and universities at risk is surely an unjust law. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that a human-made law need not be obeyed if its purpose is not for the common good. In “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,” Henry David Thoreau argues that we must break the law when the government requires us to do injustice through an unjust law. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. states that “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

For the health and lives of thousands of students, faculty, and staff and their communities and families, please come together as leaders of our institutions of higher education in courage, compassion, and civil disobedience to defy this unjust law now before it is too late. Otherwise the unnecessary illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths that will most certainly occur will rightly haunt your conscience forever.

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