Americans were fortunate among people of the Earth to have lived in a nation that, for 236 years, avoided being taken over and controlled by religious extremists. It is a sad commentary, but now that the Republican Party has been taken over by evangelical fundamentalists as a result of Republican demigod Ronald Reagan giving the religious right the keys to government, that 236 year secular run is apparently nearly ended. Most Americans likely never believed that government officials would have the authority, or audacity, to terminate a state employee for not complying with the “official state religion,” but they also probably never imagined the Supreme Court would legalize an employer’s control over women’s reproductive health choices.
A former Kansas state employee has filed a federal wrongful termination lawsuit targeting Kansas’ Secretary of State and assistant secretary of state, Eric Rucker. The lawsuit alleges that the employee’s dismissal was founded on her refusal to attend bible and prayer services in Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office. It is important to note that the evangelical church services in Secretary of State Kobach’s office were officiated by, a voluntary minister with Capitol Commission, David DePue, whose ministry focuses solely on evangelizing Kansas’ government leaders.
According to the lawsuit filed in federal court, Kobach’s lieutenant Rucker “repeatedly and emphatically indicated a basis for her, Courtney Canfield’s, termination as the fact that, ‘She just doesn’t go to church.'” Canfield’s experience working for a Kansas theocrat began shortly after being hired when Kobach’s assistants “invited” Ms. Canfield to attend Christian religious services being regularly conducted in the taxpayer-funded secretary of state’s office. Canfield declined to worship, study, or pray with her new evangelical colleagues in Kobach’s Topeka government office and was duly fired for expressing her Constitutional religious freedom to not worship or regularly attend church. Apparently, not attending church regularly and declining to worship according to an employer’s religion is something Americans are learning more every day is un-American and an attack on evangelicals’ religious liberty.
Obviously, as the lawsuit contends, Rucker’s evangelical decision to terminate Canfield’s employment violated her constitutional right of religious expression; a right evangelicals believe applies to them exclusively. The lawsuit also indicates that Rucker had full knowledge of Canfield’s view’s on religious expression including that she is a Methodist, not a raving evangelical, and that she did not regularly attend church services. Evidently, not regularly attending church and rejecting the “Christian invitation” to do bible study and prayer services in the Secretary of State’s office was justification for termination according to Kansas’ evangelical theocrats. So they did what any religious extremist running a government does and fired the “non-compliant” sinner. Likely, evangelicals yearn for Sharia-like authority that allows them to execute Americans for religious non-compliance; it is doubtless they are working on changing that prohibition with religious fervor.
Ms. Canfield said that “Participation in these religious services was by invitation only. These invitations were distributed during normal government business work hours and included a ‘prayer guide’ to be utilized at that week’s service” in the Secretary of State’s office. Conducting church services in taxpayer-funded government offices is bad enough, but it gets worse.
Court documents say that assistant secretary of state Rucker appealed to the plaintiff’s grandmother to terminate the employee on religious grounds. Rucker left a telephone message for Margie Canfield, the “wayward” employee’s grandmother, who is a longtime administrator and former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party to set up a meeting. After leaving a message on Margie Canfield’s telephone, Rucker arrived at her Topeka home and “proceeded to tell Margie that she needed to terminate her granddaughter’s employment with the state despite the fact that she had no direct authority over her employment.” Rucker apparently grew tired of waiting three days for the grandmother to fire her granddaughter from Kobach’s staff and finally notified Courtney Canfield himself that her employment in the secretary of state’s office had ended and to seek unemployment benefits.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Topeka and names as defendants both the office of the Secretary of State and Kobach’s number one religious enforcer Eric Rucker. Apparently, Secretary of State Kobach declined to comment on the unconstitutional use of government offices for religion or the illegal termination for “lack of church attendance.” However, a spokeswoman for Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Secretary of State Kobach’s office requested legal representation in the case that prompted the attorney general to retain private counsel to handle the unconstitutional establishment of religion matter.
This kind of blatant retribution for not complying with an “invitation” to toe the evangelical line and acquiesce to worship according to fundamentalist dogma is not unique to Kansas. Last month in Georgia, a local Baptist church aired a video showing over 24 youth football players being coerced into being baptized on school grounds using school equipment prior to the Villa Rica Wildcat’s football practice with the caption, “Take a look and see how God is still in our schools!” After complaints from several groups including the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), school administrators are being forced to investigate the blatant violation of separation of church and state.
Local evangelicals who believe the church is the state watched the glaring constitutional violation and said the school baptisms were a message of “hope, care, and compassion from the community.” The senior pastor of the First Baptist Church said Christians had no need to even ask the school for permission to use its property and equipment for the mass baptisms. He said “I was so proud for these young men and their example of their new relationship with Christ and what it means in that school. The school really didn’t have any say in it. It was us, the church and men in community setting it up. There are a lot of people who don’t want god in anything;” Baptists believe otherwise.
Recognizing the pressure to comply with the coaches’ demands or not play sports that is rampant in schools, the co-president of the FFRF, Annie Laurie Gaylor, stated the obvious according to the U.S. Constitution; religion and public schools do not mix. She said, “Our students should not be forced to pray to play, and this is coercive and proselytizing. Football players are at mercy of their coach and want to please their coach, and when they are being corralled to attend a religious worship service to be dunked and baptized, that’s coercive.”
It is also as unconstitutional as terminating an employee for “not attending church” or “declining to worship” in Kansas’ Secretary of State’s office. But Republicans, particularly religious Republicans, do not acknowledge the Constitution, separation of church and state, or any Americans’ religious freedom except for their own bastardized interpretation that entails forcing Christianity on Americans. This glaring effort to force religion on Americans, although occurring nationally, is rampant in Republican-controlled states; particularly in the schools whether it is teaching the bible as science or transferring public school money to corporate-run charter schools and private institutions teaching religion.
Americans are generally unaware that evangelicals are forcing their religion down the throats of Americans at every turn and they would have little to no success without legislative assistance from Republicans and the Vatican-5 on the Supreme Court. It is astonishing, really, that in a nation founded on a document that prohibits “establishment of religion,” government employees are terminated for “not attending church” and young students are “coerced” into being baptized on school grounds and with school equipment in order to participate in school sports. However, that is the price complacent Americans pay for not voting and being too cowardly to rise up and protest that their nation is being transformed into a Taliban-like theocracy with an evangelical Sharia law incrementally replacing the U.S. Constitution.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.