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Kansas Continues its Disregard for Separation of Church and State

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Author Thomas Frank once asked: “What’s the matter with Kansas?” It seems at least part of the answer is the state’s growing disregard for church-state separation.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that a three-day “transforming revival” workshop that had been scheduled to take place in the main chamber of the Kansas House of Representatives will be moved to another venue thanks to scrutiny from Americans United and the news media.

The AP said that event organizer Dave DePue, who works for Capitol Commission, a Raleigh, N.C., nonprofit that places clergy in statehouses to advise lawmakers, claimed the workshop didn’t have a political agenda and is intended to help church leaders learn how to bolster work in their communities.

But AU and the news media had raised questions about the event because its organizers described it as a “beginner’s course” for Christians seeking to lead spiritual revivals in their communities, the AP reported. DePue also told the AP that Gov. Sam Brownback (R) was scheduled to greet the workshop participants.   

The event, put on by the Lynnwood, Wash.-based Sentinel Group, even had a sponsor in House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfreid (R-Olathe). He seems to like sponsoring this sort of thing, having tried unsuccessfully this year to put aside a designated space in the statehouse for prayer.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn expressed shock when informed of the details of the workshop.

“This is almost like turning the seat of government over temporarily to a religious group,” he told the AP. “It’s startling to me to even hear about it.”

The statehouse should be devoted purely to public business, not to meetings of fundamentalist Christian revival groups. No matter how anyone tries to spin this, there is a clear entangling of government with religion.

We’re glad the workshop has been moved, but the fight isn’t over because there is a trend in Kansas of either ignoring church-state separation or going so far as to treat the concept with hostility.

Brownback, in particular, has been a staunch ally of the Religious Right. He was the only governor to attend Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s Christians-only prayer rally in Texas last summer, and he frequently pushes “faith-based” programs and has signed bills restricting abortion rights. If he gets his way, it will even be legal in Kansas to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons – as long as you do it in the name of religion.

And that’s just some of his recent activities. Back in 2006, Brownback supported the failed Public Expression of Religion Act, which would have made it more difficult for citizens to challenge church-state violations.

Meanwhile, Kansas lawmakers also passed a measure this year intended to ban shariah – Islamic law – despite the fact that there has never been a credible threat from Islam to the state’s legal system.

We may not know, what, exactly is the matter with Kansas. But we do know this: the state is headed in the wrong direction on church-state issues, and Americans United is not afraid to speak up.

If we see something, we will say something.


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