Vickie Sandell Stangl: Can’t direct citizens to pray

01/29/2013 12:00 AM

01/28/2013 5:39 PM

An article on Gov. Sam Brownback discussed how he issued an official proclamation urging all Kansans to repent before God (“Brownback’s life permeated by his strong personal faith,” Dec. 31 Eagle). The article reported that Ed Flentje, professor at Wichita State University, had no problem with Brownback speaking at religious rallies, even if he does remind people of his position as governor.

But Brownback was not speaking at the rally as a private citizen who happened to be the governor of Kansas. Rather, he used the office to promote and endorse the ReignDown USA organization, a fundamentalist Christian group calling for a “Day of Restoration.” It is an establishment of religion when the governor calls for all Kansans to heed one particular Christian group’s call to prayer.

Imagine the uproar if a governor issued a proclamation asking all Kansans to stop praying and instead turn to reason to solve life’s problems. Most citizens would find it a violation of church and state, and not the business of the governor to issue such a pronouncement.

However, the privileged position of Christianity in our culture is so ingrained that when the same abuse occurs under Brownback, it is accepted as a freedom of expression and his personal views. It is not.

Under the auspices of the state, Brownback made the decision that all Kansans should repent, regardless of their own religious or personal views.

Though Flentje was correct in stating that religion is a problem when it enters the public square and blends with policy, it is crucial to note that elected officials are strictly prohibited under the Constitution from promoting or endorsing a religion.

It is very disappointing that good citizens of Wichita have often remained silent and even hostile to the concerns of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) whenever public officials have violated the separation principle. This is partly due to opponents portraying AU as an anti-religious organization, but also the inability of good Christians to recognize that government officials are not supposed to be using their office as a bully pulpit for proselytizing.

I also recognize that many citizens do not speak out for fear of being ostracized. However, without courageous leaders to confront and challenge politicians who cross the line, James Madison’s grand experiment of a secular government, within a culturally diverse religious nation, will become extinct.

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