At first, it seems pretty harmless. This chaplain for Capitol Connection, an organization active in 19 statehouses across the country, sets up prayer chains and groups. They run prayer breakfasts and bible studies over lunch. Of course it's all voluntary, so what's the harm, right?
But keep reading this article, because it gets so much worse. An employee at the Kansas Department for Children and Families died. The supervisor sent out an email that included a portion of the Lord's Prayer and set up a prayer service during office hours. My office once suffered the unexpected loss of a colleague. We were all stunned and sad and looking to each other. If the head of the office had sent out an email with a religious message, I would have been offended. If he had gone a step further and organized a prayer service at work, I would have been angry enough to quit. Religion and the office, especially a state office, just don't mix. The DCF office wisely decided not to go through with the prayer event at the office during office hours. Instead it was held after hours somewhere else. This particular department has been entirely revamped and largely restaffed when the new governor took office in 2011. As a result, there appears to be a broad new emphasis on faith-based services and initiatives that push a view of family structure the governor and his cronies see as biblical.
I can't help but wonder how employees at that agency who didn't participate in the after-hours service were viewed. Or who don't share the biblical views of their department leaders. If I worked in social services, I would certainly not want to promote the notion that marriage is the best way out of poverty for women. What happens to those employees? Are they marginalized and pushed out? And how about legislators or staff members who never attend that weekly prayer breakfast or bible study? Are those employees who don't outwardly profess a Christian faith less valued? Less likely to get their ideas heard or be promoted?
The scariest part of this article is the very end. The pastor who is the focus of the article indicated that some caution needed to be exercised in deciding which religious groups have access to the statehouse. Apparently in the Kansas capitol, not all religions are equal. The Westboro Baptist Church, those crazy picketers based in Topeka, might be a problem, according to the pastor.
"That's not the kind of religion we're talking about," DePue said. "We're talking about the good Samaritan kind of religion where you turn the other cheek."Wow. At least he's honest about it. He went on to suggest that Muslims also shouldn't assume they have access.
"They can apply," he said. "The main concern would be security. Probably that would be a valid reason. With security, if they felt it was an insecure situation, they would be told no."
So the message is that faith is welcomed at the Kansas capitol. Embraced, even. Championed and heralded. As long as it's the right faith. And the right brand of the right faith. Muslims are mean and scary. The WBC is just mean. So they can't come in. One assumes that Buddhists and Jainists, being pretty darn peaceful types, would be ok. But Wiccans are probably too weird.
And, of course, what about those of us of no faith? Would we be more or less welcome than those scary terrorists or the hateful wackos? Do we have any place in the statehouse according to this guy and the great majority of our state legislators? I don't think we do, which is as much a violation of the First Amendment as it is to declare that Muslims and the WBC need not apply for access.
Obviously, one's worldviews and political view are informed by one's religious views or lack thereof. There is no way to remove that individual influence of religion on politics. But those people who are elected to the statehouse have an absolute obligation to remember that not everyone shares those religious views. And we have a right not to have the religious views of others imposed on us. From this article and other things I have observed in the past year and a half in this state, I don't think that a lot of our leaders understand that they're doing anything wrong.