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Cardinal Brownback Builds His Theocratic State

By Vickie Stangl
Opinion | January 23, 2011

WICHITA, Kan. - Throughout our political history politicians have accepted the wise imperative that one's personal faith should be separate from politics. As President Kennedy took great pains to explain to a nervous, protestant majority back in the sixties, his faith as a Catholic was not a factor in his role as an elected official. Kennedy explained that he would be president of all the people, not a Catholic president with a hotline to the Pope.

Our Constitution prohibits any religious tests for office. What did this mean beyond the obvious? It meant our Founders were clearly trying to avert a situation where government might be torn apart by sectarian violence. The Founders clearly understood that one's personal faith should have no bearing on the day to day business of government. Religious dogma was dangerous to good government. If public officials were to promote their own personal doctrines into public policy for all citizens to obey, such as the abortion issue, it would have the affect of destabilizing government.

Elected officials in Kansas appear highly uneducated and arrogant by disregarding this important fundamental truth about our secular government. Cardinal Brownback, along with many other Kansas officials, have forgotten they serve all the people of Kansas, not simply the Catholic Church or other religious beliefs. If Catholics choose to embrace a truth I personally think is false, that's their business. But elected officials, Catholic or otherwise, cross the line with impunity when they decide to legislate against a woman's right to reproductive freedoms based upon their religious views.

If Catholics and the Religious Right can pass laws to restrict women's privacy rights, then no one should complain if American Muslim officials decide to pass laws to veil all women in America or exclude women from receiving an education. As I have stated numerous times, if you want to be a public official in our secular, nonsectarian government, your religious doctrines cannot violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. Let me state this one more time: blocking a woman's right to choose is based upon a religious belief therefore, it is an establishment by the state of a particular faith forced upon all others, and that is a violation.

All Americans, but especially Kansans should be very concerned when any elected official decides to stand as the next great expositor of God's truth and labors to bring that religious truth to everyone else. Brownback has not only stepped forward to lead the Catholic charge against abortion in his role as Governor, but has quickly appointed former buddies of Phill Kline into positions of power in the state with religious motives.

Brownback just elevated former warden of the El Dorado Correctional Facility, Raymond Roberts, to head the Kansas Department of Corrections. Why should Kansans be concerned about this apparently ho-hum appointment? Roberts is the warden notorious for pushing his evangelical dictatorship of Christ at the prison. Inmates of other faiths or of no faith have discovered they must tread lightly around this man of God who does not tolerate any other view in his presence. This is the same prison in El Dorado that built the million dollar Spiritual Center while atheists, humanists and secular inmates requesting to meet like other religious groups at the El Dorado Facility, were treated as lepers and denied this same right.

When I confronted prison officials and their lawyers, the results were predicable. They hid behind bogus "reviews" and rules and forms they claimed inmates did not complete while ignoring their own rules or changing the rules to fit their story because they have the power to do whatever they want and the public doesn't really care about inmates who are dirty filthy atheists anyway. Even when the national organization of Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to the state regarding this unconstitutional treatment of inmates at the El Dorado Facility, Kansas state officials refused to respond.

I've seen the paper trail inmate Richardson and other inmates filed again and again to obtain the right for a secular group to meet in peace at the prison. When Mr. Richardson tells me that there is a double standard in the prison system giving perks to good Christian inmates, while threatening and denying privileges to inmates who refuse to find Christ, he is absolutely correct in his assessment.

Is it just a coincidence that Brownback has elevated Warden Roberts as Kansas Secretary of Corrections? Brownback has made this appointment because he supports Roberts' efforts and believes all inmates in the correctional system should discover Christ, too. Barely two weeks as Governor and we have a clear picture of Brownback's Kansas; the land of the Religious Right holding hands with the Catholics as they bring a theocratic stamp to all Kansans.

I wouldn't be surprised if the next bill introduced into the legislature will require all Kansans to register as Christians, with Secretary of State Kobach granted the authority to deem all such voters ineligible who refuse to comply.

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22 Comments

Thanks for writing this, Vickie. I cringe when I think about the direction our state government is going. Surely most Kansans would not see this as a good direction. Is there any way the inmates can file suit against the state to deal with this discrimination? I know their rights are limited, but do they throw out religious freedom when they go to jail?

Your hypothetical view of the future of the state that you end your blog with may seem far-fetched, but I can see the net tightening around us who don't hold these narry beliefs.


Vickie, we are not on the same page in our religious beliefs (I don't think) but we are definetely on the same page as concerns SEPARATION OF CHURCH and STATE. My religious beliefs are between me and God and the voluntary association with others of like belief or faith. God has not appointed me to make judgment on your belief or faith!!! Civil government makes laws and provides services that apply to all, regardless of their faith or belief. Civil government has every right and obligation to enforce those laws. Our founding fathers were well aware of the persecution and bullying power of State Religion. That's why they put that little phrase regarding religion in the constitution, through amendment.

As regards Brownback, do you remember a few years back, after 9-11, when he declared that the most important issue facing this nation was SAME SEX MARRIAGE. That locked in his vote by the extreme religious right. Never mind that the religious right has not put forth any substantial statistics that back that up. Can they show any real evidence that society is severely damaged? Or are they simply using their religious belief and declaring it God's commandment that all people must obey their idea or the Nation will fail? There is statistical evidence that polygamy has ill effects on society. They don't need to claim Biblical justification for laws concerning that issue. And most of our other laws that address moral and ethical issues are justified and necessary, accross the board, without regard to any religious dogma. All Christian associations don't agree on many issues concerning severity of punishment or even absolute prohibition of some issues. Why should we expect civil government to back any single faith group at the expense of others? We are fighting a losing battle in the Mid East and religious issues are very much what is preventing civilized approach to their social problems.


Ken: Excellent points! And please understand that I have no problem with other people embracing whatever faith they want to believe in but like you, I have a HUGE problem with religion mixing with government. I would never want to take away someone's freedom to believe what they want to believe. I decided to begin a chapter here (Great Plains Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State) to defend this important prinicple. My beef is not with religion per se, it is with keeping church and state separate like you. Check out our website www.greatplainsau.org if you have not done so.


Diane: I think you are my most loyal supporter! Yes, you know I was writing tongue in cheek with that last sentence and yet there is a part of me that is not so sure this might not be a distant reality.


We keep hearing that 'separation of church and state' are not in the constitution. That is correct. That terminology is found in correspondence from Monroe and Jefferson, both very active in the writing of the constitution and the amendments offered immediately after ratification of the constitution.

Perhaps we need to start saying 'separation of religion and state'. That isn't an exact quote of the first amendment, but it certainly conveys the meaning of that amendment. All religions don't use the terminology or identification of 'church'.


I have lived in Kansas since 1959 and I've always kept an eye on politics... and Brownback and his crew are the scariest thing to happen to Kansas since Lawrence was burned in the 1860's, or whenever that was.
The Tiller killing was only the start of it... violence is definitely in the playbook for the rich white guys on the Brownback team.
The number of atheists nationally in the prison system is miniscule, I wonder if it's above average in Kansas? That wouldn't surprise me at all.
Ken, I think that saying "separation of religion and state" is a cool idea, but it won't stop the religious from wanting to run the government... and they will be in Kansas, starting right now.


Please let me share this: I remember back in my days at KU and all the atheist college professors and their student cronies going out of their way to mock and ridicule us students who dared to keep our faiths. I was called names like fundie, right-winger, stupid, ignorant, living in the dark ages, and worse. Of course new agers and wiccans were given the green light. I truly believe that certain people there would relish the day they could burn down any and all churches. A friend of mine who was doing nothing wrong but handing out bibles on the street once, was surrounded by a bunch of these "open minded" people who proceeded to burn all his bibles to the delight of a cheering crowd. So forgive me if I dont see Brownback in the same light you do.


Brad, the new agers and wiccans should not be burning the Christians books or doing bodily harm to the Christians. Neither should the Christians have been burning the accused witches in the early colonies. The Klu Klux Klan claimed religious sanction for their activities. Hitler claimed religious sanction for his regime. Our Constitution prevents government sanction of any of those actions. It also requires government protection of believers and non believers property and rights.

There is justifiable concern that Brownback will deny rights of individuals by his interpretation of right and wrong according to his chosen faith and not on the basis of equal human freedom of choice. Government is supposed to protect the civil rights of all people, regardless of their profession of faith or lack of faith in any recognized religion. Proper civil government laws are concerned with human relationship with humans. Civil government laws are not for the purpose of salvation or qualification for any religious promise for the hereafter. Religious institutions, not government, is responsible for encouraging their followers to follow their religious rules.


Ken, I think your missing my point. Vicki's article said we should be concerned about Brownbacks feelings on religion. I'm saying is her words have less meaning to me because I, remembering back to my days at KU, know how atheist college professors act. So why should I assume peopleWe who went thru this, even 20 years ago like I did, remember and yes, we vote.


Hi Brad. I guess I should respond since you don't feel your comment is being understood. I believe you are saying that since you felt discriminated against for your faith back during your KU days, you feel like you have no sympathy for the cause of keeping religion and government separate. I'm sorry that there were students who acted in this manner, however, one of the things about college life is being exposed to ideas and people we may disagree with very much, or help shape our opinions but it doesn't mean that this one experience should define all future discussions about religion's role in government. To use this former experience as justification for now having little sympathy for efforts to prevent religion from taking control our government, seems, if you will forgive me, really holding a grudge. I hope you can remember that just as you still feel anger or resentment for the wrong behavior you experienced, you can understand that the very same feelings and experiences have happened to atheists in this country therefore, the solution is upholding the separation of church and state begining with monitoring our leaders who seem determine to cast aside this important principle.


I want to add another perspective to the situation of people handing out Bibles on college campuses. First, I must say, it's no one's business what my religious beliefs are. That's what I find problematic about the Bible people. Instead of waiting for passersby to ask for one of their little green Bibles, they shove them in your face and ask if you want one. Little do they know that between my husband and me, we have a shelf full of Bibles handed down to us by our familes. These are real Bibles, black and leather bound. Mine contain my family's history.

Little do the Bible people know that I've read the Bible at least twice all the way through. Now why in the world would I want one of those little green Bibles when I already have the real thing at home?

The worst thing about them is that they intrude on people's privacy when they hand those things out. If they would wait until a person asks for a Bible, I could accept them. But they don't. They're just as bad as the Atheists who heckle them. It doesn't matter who does the intruding. Instrusion is intrusion.

I often ask myself what if it were Muslims handing out copies of the Koran on our college campuses or on city street corners. Would they be allowed to stand there and do that unmolested? Given the current climate of hate, I doubt very much if they would.

And speaking of mocking and riduling, you have never experienced mocking and ridicule until you have done clinic support to help patients get in to the clinic to get an abortion. I have been called every awful name under the sun by the "good" Christians who come out in droves to harass these women. So, 'nuf said.


Vicki and Diane, With all due respect it wasnt the students poor behavior I had so much a problem with, it was the atheist college professors who set the campus tone and climate which encourages such behavior. Do you remember back in 2005 when former KU professor Paul Mirecki bragged about his new anti-religion class and how he hoped it would be "a slap in the face" to "fundies"?

Your talking about seperation of church and state right? Well Mirecki and people like him are/were PAID STATE EMPLOYEES.

Diane, you said " it's no one's business what my religious beliefs are". I agree. But Christians at KU learn pretty quick to keep it to themselves and hide it if they dont want bad grades, reviews, or miss out on chances for internships or employment. I mean the students, I understand them. They are hyped up on propaganda and at the age where they just want to lash out at someone. The atheist college professors, many of them former 60's radical types, get government supplied paychecks, benefits, sabaticals, and retirement yet answer to nobody. Merickis problem - he got caught. Others are more careful with emails.


So thats what I'm getting at.

Vicki, you said we should "monitor our leaders". Who is monitoring the paid state employees at the Universities? You want seperation of church and state, the same as me. Brownback, well say what you want about him but he HAS to answer to the voters, legislature, courts, and the press. Paid state employees at the Universities, answer to nobody.


Brad I know Prof Mirecki and you have left out the fact that he was stripped of his Chairmanship in the Dept of Religion at the Univeristy due to Christians in state govt. who expressed outrage and had the power to put pressue on the university and without any real review to malign this fine professor. Mirecki taught, published and was considered highly regarded in his field as a professor of religion at KU and might I add, according to other students I knew, stated Mirecki was actually a very fair professor IN CLASS. As a professor of religion he certainly had a full grasp of religion and was silenced for daring to critically examine the roots of religion beginning with all the ancient myths that evolved into religious beleifs. We don't want to examine truth, we just want to believe what we want to believe. That is why Mirecki was dumped. While he may have expressed his private views about extremists in the christian community on a blog that was later hacked into and then used against him,Professors do have the right to their personal feelings and beliefs outside of class. In the meantime, he was brutally attacked and then had to defend the fact that he was attacked and I can tell you, it was very frightening. I now understand your point of view. You believe any professor who expresses his/her feelings in a negative way about religion should be fired because they are state workers. If only we could so easily fire elected leaders who state their religious beliefs constantly and wear it on their sleeves but because they have money, power and a legion of foot soldiers to vote for them, we cannot so easily defend separation of church and state in America. I would also like to state for the record,I have experienced many conservative professors who have said outrageous things about atheists in class, and no one had a problem with those professors or got them fired or stripped of their chairmanship. I'd say there is a big double standard when it comes to professors and that is if you are liberal and/or an atheists you need to shut up, but if you are conserative and religious, you are not corrupting students but deserve your state salary. I'm sorry, but on this point, we will definitely have to disagree.


Vicki,

Do I feel state employees that give negative opinions about other peoples faith be fired? If your talking about the average state employee in Topeka - no. But this is a college professor and department chair with enormous authority. He chose to accept that job, the chairmanship, and the responsibilities that go with it. He deliberately violated the code of ethics and used his position to push an agenda of anti-christian bigotry. Sure one can say whatever they like. BUT, one must also be able to handle the consequences especially if one is at a public university and in the position to mold young minds. He might have been a nice man IN CLASS, but he obviously had a personal grudge and agenda. And for the record, he wasnt fired by either state government or KU administration. He could have kept right on working. It was his fellow colleagues at KU who asked him to resign. Any real pressure came from parents and alumni.

Fore the record, I to want Brownback to put aside any religious or personal agendas he has and get down to the business of creating jobs and economic development. If an atheist is the best person for the job, so be it. It should not be a criteria for employment.


As a retired college instructor, I value the necessity of academic freedom. I never revealed my religious beliefs to my students. That wasn't my role as a faculty member. However, I tried to help a young science instructor at Cowley Community College who made his objections to prayers opening department meetings known to his dean. He lost his job, I'm sorry to say, because he didn't have tenure. I think he could have won a lawsuit against the college if he'd wanted to pursue one, but he knew that would make it difficult for him to find another job, so he didn't.

I remember the Mirecki case, and from what I saw of it he was railroaded out of his job. I know from first-hand experience that Christians rule the roost on college campuses. One year, when I was in charge of organizing the faculty retirement dinner, I asked one of our Ba'hai faculty members to say the grace, something we shouldn't have been doing in the first place. I could see the surprised looks on people's faces around the room at the prayer that man gave.

The faculty members at Butler were required to attend graduation or lose a day of pay. While there we had to listen to an area minister give a Christian prayer, even though many of our students and some of our faculty members were Jews, Muslims, Bah'ais, and Atheists, among other faith groups. Some us tried to raise this as an issue, as well as the issue of getting Good Friday off as a holiday, but we got nowhere. Butler is a taxpayer supported institution and has no business favoring one religion over another.

Neither does Sam Brownback and his pack of fundies who are now in charge of state government. Who will stop them I don't know, but I anticipate the state will be paying out a lot of money to defend itself against lawsuits for several issues as time goes by.


Why should the state punish a college professor for criticizing religion why at the same time employ many of the Phelps family as state workers? What kind of message does that send? Bigotry is OK as long as it is done by Christians? But if you dare criticize it and are a professor you should be fired


I think this discussion has hit a wall so I will not add to it.

One problem I do see is maybe we (yes including me) need to take a look at how our personal feelings, our own experiences, and yes - prejudices, work as a filter for political information. And how our personal biases keep us from making truly objective judgements.

Is it possible to get over them?

Is true unbiased objectivity possible?


"Is true unbiased objectivity possible?"

Not as long as human beings are involved!

We are like a bunch of kids. "Mama, he's touching me!" "Mama, she touched me first!" "Mama, he's looking at me now!" "Mama, she made a face at me!" "I'm gonna go tell Daddy!" As parents, we hope the kids finally grow up and figure out there are better things to do than irritate one another. Is it possible that we might have better things to do than squable over pro/con religious issues?

Get over it! It takes two to fight. And, sometimes it takes a referee to keep the fight fair. And, in the kid's case above, the referee sometimes has to do a little touching of their own. The U.S. constitution sets our government up as the referee and the rule book says the government cannot favor either combatant. Is it going to take a spanking to convince us to grow up and settle our differences in positive ways instead of childish negative spitting at each other?


Someone wanna smack me one? I'm still guilty of pinching behind the teacher's back. I duck and the one behind me gets the slap. Who do you suppose the teacher got after? On here, my pinches are right out in the open for all to see. So, go ahead and smack me and let's get on with life.


Ken, I agree. There will never be a "theocratic state" nor a completely atheistic one like the old USSR. Nobody (okay a few) would want it. Basically we are arguing over having our feelings hurt.

What really matters is economic development and creating jobs.


No, Brad, what really matters is man's relationship with man and the realization that there is a higher power that we all must answer to. All religions, even the atheist persuation, must eventually accept the fact that we are not islands separated from one another.

Economic development and creating jobs is the fact of our culture that sometimes overshadows our compassion and love for our fellow man. The compitition for wealth and the greedy nature of man gets in the way of seeing ourselves as equal and sharing what we have. That doesn't mean giving without sharing the satisfaction of doing for ourselves, as well as others. There are some who have never experienced that joy.


Brad are you saying two wrongs make a right. Fact of the matter is Brownback is making policy that will affect greater numbers of persons for a longer period of time that the wrong headed individuals you came across.


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