TOPEKA – A coalition of Kansas clergy has submitted a petition to Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration asking the governor to rescind an executive order attempting to halt the relocation of Syrian refugees in the state.
The Wichita Eagle reports that the group, representing more than 50 Kansas churches, said the order impedes their religious liberty to help refugees.
Brownback issued the order on Nov. 16 directing that no state agency or organization receiving grant money through the state government to participate or assist “in any way in the relocation of Syrian refugees to Kansas” in the wake of the November attacks in Paris.
The attacks sparked concern that terrorists could enter the country under the guise of seeking refuge from Syria.
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The Rev. David Livingston, of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Lenexa, said Brownback has spoken forcefully in the past about protecting religious freedom and wants him to maintain that stance.
“I want Gov. Brownback to be true to his word that he will be a governor who allows Christians and others of faith to live out their faith fully,” Livingston said. “We want to be able to fully practice our religious liberty, our freedom as Christians, to live out the Gospel message. And, that certainly includes refugees from a war-torn country.”
Livingston said 35 United Methodist congregations in Kansas and Nebraska had committed to sponsoring at least one Syrian refugee family.
The Rev. Kenny Clewett, pastor of Christ Community Church in Leawood, said “We are very concerned that our elected officials are proposing to limit our right and our ability to welcome refugees. We refuse to have that taken from us.”
Josh Shepherd, executive director of Mission House in Kansas City, Kan., said some politicians had argued the fight against terrorists aligned with the Islamic State required Syrian refugees to be ostracized.
“The last thing we want to do as Americans is to succumb to terror,” he said.
Maureen Lunn, who represented Jacob’s Well Church in Kansas City, Mo., said governors who acted to slow immigration of Syrians based on a notion attackers in Paris reached France while disguised as refugees had relied on flawed information. She urged political leaders, who often make note of their personal faith, to walk in shoes of a displaced Syrian.
“From a faith perspective,” she said, “a refugee entails almost every single attribute that Jesus describes for the type of people we are called to open our arms to. People who are poor, needy, sick, homeless or widowed. All of these things describe a refugee.”
The Rev. Kurt Rietema, of Olathe, read a one-page statement labeled a call to prayer and action. The minister at Pathway Community Church pointed to Old Testament text, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself.”
After Brownback issued the executive order, Catholic bishops in Kansas collectively requested elected officials allow resettlement to continue and refrain from engaging in political opportunism or fostering activities to “harden our hearts” to plight of refugees.
Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer returned from visiting two refugee camps in Jordan and reiterated Brownback’s view that security of Kansans necessitated action by the governor. Colyer said Democratic President Barack Obama couldn’t guarantee Islamic State hadn’t infiltrated the throng of refugees.
The perspective of Brownback and Colyer has been endorsed by House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, who thanked the governor for “quickly and decisively addressing the potential of radical Islamic terrorists hiding among the Syrian refugees.”
Eileen Hawley, a spokeswoman for Brownback, said the state has always welcomed refugees, but the federal government cannot guarantee security checks regarding the resettlement of refugees.
“While America will continue to be a country that defends the oppressed, our allies in the region also must step up to stem the tide of this humanitarian crisis,” Hawley said.