TOPEKA, Kan. - Conservatives in the Kansas legislature are once again up to their old tricks of trying to turn the Capitol into a religious body. A new proposal was announced this week that would provide Kansas state lawmakers with a very special privilege; an "All-faiths" chapel inside the Capitol building. There are many legal concerns as well as practical arguments against the All-faiths chapel. However, the important question to raise is why such a proposal has suddenly appeared?
The whole effort is nothing more than religious mischief concocted by the religious right. If the proposal goes nowhere in this session, the idea still gets out in front of the public to build momentum and support down the road for a chapel. Make no mistake that behind this audacious proposal, the All-faiths chapel is a very calculated and concrete challenge to elevate religion in Kansas government and devalue secularism. This proposal essentially demands that Kansas government accommodate and provide for religion to establish a real presence within the Statehouse and serve as a visible reminder that faith is paramount in governing when in fact, governing should be neutral when it comes to religious promotion. Establishing a chapel in the Capitol building is hardly a neutral act.
Providing a house of worship within the Capitol sends the message that religion is a unique institution to be given a special space and status in the very building that all Kansas taxpayers support regardless of their faith or beliefs. Of course, this proposal does not make provisions for other groups to enjoy the same privilege of setting up shop within the Capitol to promote their beliefs or their philosophy. Imagine a proposal that would allow Americans United for the Separation of Church and State to have a permanent room under the dome to educate lawmakers that they must be guardians in upholding the separation of church-state principle. Right, not bloody likely.
The All-faith chapel proposal may also be a campaign strategy by conservative republicans hoping to weed out moderates who don't support God, babies and apple pie. Democrats who oppose such a bill could also be labeled as godless. Opposing a chapel could put the voters in such a tizzy that it might take the heat off Laffer's Voodoo economics and divert attention away from the conservatives attempts to rob the poor in the state while stripping funding for public education to insert vouchers into the plan for religious schools. Religion is such a handy tool to divide the people and instill anger. Let's face it, stirring up believers provides far more political bang for the buck than stirring up anti-abortion forces over contraceptives.
There are numerous reasons to oppose the All-faiths chapel proposal as a misguided effort . Those arguments are listed as follows:
1. The chapel is simply unnecessary. As noted by other public officials, there are ample houses of worship in close proximity to the Capitol.
2. Legislators can pray any day, at anytime, including in their own offices.
3. Even if private funds were raised to build some kind of chapel-it is nevertheless on government property. Not only are we talking prime real estate in the heart of the Capitol but using government property for religious purposes instead of the people's business is just wrong.
4. As already noted, the Capitol has very limited space available with little to spare. Is it really a good use of space to provide for a chapel when religious bodies surround the Capitol?
5. Constitutionally it is a bad idea. While the constitution states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" this new proposal would do just that-establish the ability for religion to operate on government property. [Remember, under the 14th Amendment, the 1st Amendment was made applicable to the states thus through this select incorporation of the Bill or Rights through the 14th Amendment by the Supreme Court, the 1st amendment protections apply to the states therefore, states cannot make laws respecting an establishment of religion.] It could be argued the legislature's move to set up a chapel, even with private funds, is still on government property and thus promotes and/or sets up religion by the state.
I can hear the arguments now. "But Congress has a prayer room and has even held services in the Capitol!" While historically religious services were held in the U.S. House of Representatives as early as 1800, this occurred due to fact there were few church structures in the capitol. Jefferson even attended some of these services to quiet his enemies who believed he was a heretic.
Just because services took place in the federal capitol building does not mean this action was constitutional. It instead, illustrates how the tyranny of the majority has often had the power to disregard the Constitution. Since the majority in America at this time was Christian and there were no constitutional objections, political leaders had very little pressure to respect the church-state principle since they viewed it as a heretical idea. Today, the religious right points to these historical events as some kind of legal precedent to allow chaplains, invocations, and now a chapel within our government bodies. What our history simply reflects is the willfulness of early Christian political leaders and their refusal to uphold and respect the 1st Amendment's establishment clause because they could.
In the U.S. Capitol there is a congressional prayer room established in 1954. Keep in mind 1954 was a watershed year when Christian clergy and Christian politicians actively promoted their faith as superior to all others, especially in comparison to the godless communists of the Soviet Union. These men quite literally ignored the Constitution and pushed their dogma into the government arena without much opposition. It was a time when being Jewish or Atheist was tantamount to being a traitor. Not only did the republicans push for a prayer room, but the pledge of allegiance was altered to force all Americans to affirm God. And, let's not forget how Congress shamelessly altered our national motto from E Pluribus Unum to "In God We Trust".
Designating space for a chapel within the heart of our lawmaking body is recognition that government is giving faith a special nod and this is an inherently dangerous proposition. No one is denying legislators the right to pray- but they must do it on their own time and not expect the government to provide the privilege of space and facilities unless the very same privilege is afforded to ALL other philosophies such as Humanists and Atheists. Sharing the chapel space would not be acceptable to nonfaith groups since they are not a religion therefore, separate space must be made available for freethinkers if the faithful are going to enjoy the privilege of government sanctioned space for their use.
In short, the proposal is nothing but mischief, mischief, mischief and Kansans should be spared such infantile intrigue especially during such perilous economic times.