February 24, 2012

Lawmaker proposes all-faiths chapel for Kansas Statehouse

The House and Senate, like many governmental bodies, start their meetings with a prayer.

The House and Senate, like many governmental bodies, start their meetings with a prayer.

Now there’s a move afoot to give lawmakers and anyone else in the Statehouse more opportunity to worship.

A bill lawmakers will begin discussing this week would create an all-faiths chapel “reserved for prayer and meditation” in the Capitol.

The bill outlines the reasoning of its author, House Majority Leader Rep. Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe.

It says belief in God, prayer and meditation are part of this country’s history and culture, and that faith has a significant role in Kansas. And it notes that the state has a history of setting aside space in the Capitol for prayer and meditation.

For example, Gov. Sam Brownback joined dozens of worshipers in song and prayer in the Old Supreme Courtroom of the Statehouse on this first day of this year’s legislative session.

But it’s unclear where the chapel would be built or how much it would tack on to the massive Capitol renovation bills that seem to grow with each new estimate.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said he doesn’t see the need for it, especially with many churches within walking distance of the Statehouse.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said lawmakers recognize spiritual activity, but there could be issues appropriating taxpayer money for a chapel inside of a Capitol.

Siegfreid said the chapel will need private money.

He said he conducts a Bible study in the basement of the Docking Building each week attended by up to 30 people and that there are many Christian lawmakers who would likely use the chapel.

“There are issues in the legislature and the Capitol that will try anyone’s faith,” he said.

Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, questioned whether the move would further limit meeting space for legislative issues.

He said lawmakers would have to examine it carefully to know how people of all faiths would interact and use the chapel.

“Obviously, that’s an issue that we would have to get an opinion on before we just rubber stamp the bill and send it on,” he said. “Do a lot of us pray here? Constantly.”

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