Politics & Government

Lawsuit alleges woman fired from Secretary of State’s Office for not attending prayer service

A lawsuit filed against the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office in federal court alleges that Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rucker fired a woman because she would not attend a Christian religious service.

Courtney Canfield, who was a business-filing specialist at the Secretary of State’s Office, alleges she was fired from her job in 2013 because she did not attend a prayer service.

The complaint, filed in federal court earlier this month, says Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s assistant invited Canfield to attend a service at the Secretary of State’s Office conducted by Dave DePue, a minister who serves as unofficial pastor of the Kansas Capitol.

“These invitations were distributed during normal business hours and included a ‘prayer guide’ to be utilized at that week’s service. Despite the repeated invitations, Plaintiff never attended such a service,” the lawsuit states. “While Plaintiff was a Methodist, she did not regularly attend church services or otherwise practice any particular religious beliefs in any way.”

The complaint says Rucker was aware of her lack of religious participation.

Kobach called the lawsuit baseless. “Mr. Rucker terminated Ms. Canfield from her position because of her poor performance. The suggestion that Mr. Rucker, or anyone else at the Office of the Secretary of State, monitored employees’ church attendance is ridiculous,” he said in an e-mail.

Canfield’s attorney, Timothy Stipe, said he would not comment because the complaint speaks for itself.

Micah Kubic, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said that the allegations in the suit, if true, are “deeply troubling.”

“The conduct that she describes in the lawsuit is outrageous. It’s clearly illegal and unconstitutional, and I think most people would recognize, simply wrong,” Kubic said.

The suit alleges that the assistant secretary of state visited the home of Canfield’s grandmother, who worked for the Kansas Republican Party, in November 2013 and informed her of the plans to terminate Canfield’s employment.

“Mr. Rucker repeatedly and emphatically indicated a basis for her termination as the fact that ‘She just doesn’t go to church,’ ” the lawsuit alleges.

Canfield was then officially told three days later, on Nov. 18, 2013, that her employment had been terminated.

She is suing for in excess of $75,000 in damages, alleging she was fired on the basis of her lack of religious participation, in violation of the U.S. Civil Rights Act.

Rucker and the office are defendants in the suit.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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