Government & Politics

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback tells religious freedom rally participants to keep up the fight

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback spoke Wednesday at a “religious freedom” rally in Topeka.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback spoke Wednesday at a “religious freedom” rally in Topeka. The Kansas City Star

A religious freedom rally drew an estimated 1,000 participants to the Kansas Capitol rotunda Wednesday, and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback exhorted them not to grow weary of the fight.

“This is about freedom of conscience, about freedom of your soul,” Brownback said.

The governor reminded the crowd of the need to build strong families and a strong country, and at the core of that work is religious freedom, he said.

“Don’t grow weary,” Brownback said. “We need you in this fight.”

Conservatives have decried a variety of U.S. Supreme Court and Obama administration decisions, from gay marriage to health care mandates, as attacks on Americans’ religious liberties.

Speakers at the rally said the fallout from such decisions has meant not only a loss of tolerance for people of faith but government coercion against them. The Rally for Religious Freedom was hosted by several organizations, including the Kansas Catholic Conference and the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas.

Some speakers told personal stories.

Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in Washington state, was sued by that state’s attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union after she declined to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. She couldn’t participate and stay true to her Christian beliefs, she said.

When she told her story earlier in the day at a legislative committee meeting, a lawmaker told Stutzman that her fight to protect her religious freedom would be long and hard.

“The Supreme Court has, in fact, established a third sex for all intents and purposes. So there’s male and female and gay,” said Republican Rep. Dick Jones of Topeka said. “Gay is strictly a sexual preference. It’s not a separate sex.”

Stutzman and her lawyer, Kellie Fiedorek with the Alliance Defending Freedom, addressed lawmakers at a House Federal and State Affairs Committee informational hearing.

Stutzman was sued for declining to provide floral services for a same-sex couple’s wedding ceremony after the state had made same-sex marriage legal. The couple included her longtime customer and friend Rob Ingersoll.

The florist said she had designed flower arrangements for Ingersoll for 10 years.

“I did not turn down Rob because he was gay,” Stutzman said. “I turned down an event.”

A florist’s involvement in a marriage ceremony is extensive, she said, from meeting with the couple and learning about their relationship to assisting personally at wedding events.

“I cannot do that,” she said about involvement in the ceremony. “It would dishonor Christ.”

Rep. Annie Tietze, a Topeka Democrat, said there were various laws business owners might prefer not to follow, questioning whether they get to choose. Fiedorek said the court had ruled in the Hobby Lobby case against forcing violations of one’s core convictions.

“She simply couldn’t participate in one event that violated her core convictions,” Fiedorek said.

Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said the committee should have invited other testimony. Some comments showed misinformation about what sexual orientation means, he said.

“It was a one-sided attack on LGBT Kansans,” Witt said.

Other speakers at the noon rally included Hernan Castano, one of five pastors whose sermons on a gender identity ordinance were subpoenaed by the city of Houston, and Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, which won a case against the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.

Ryan Anderson with the Heritage Foundation said such cases are evidence that the government, which should protect religious liberty, is attacking that freedom.

Government is incorrectly viewing religious freedom as applying only to worship services rather than to the ways people live out faith in their everyday lives, he said.

“Religious liberty rights protect our freedom to perform our duties to God,” Anderson said.

Last July, Brownback issued an executive order to protect “Kansas clergy and religious organizations from being forced to participate in activities that violate their sincerely and deeply held beliefs.” He said Wednesday that he would like to see the order developed as a statute.

Edward M. Eveld: 816-234-4442, @EEveld