Jan 13, 2011

This month, new officials across the country are taking office and getting ready for their chance to govern.

How they start off their term often sends a strong message about their respect for church-state separation and religious diversity. Unfortunately, some officials don’t bother to follow the constitutional principle at all.

For example, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a religious right ally, is already cloaking his rule in religion. Brownback, who was a resident of the infamous “C Street House” while serving in the Senate, has always been a foe of church-state separation.

According to the Topeka Capitol-Journal, Brownback’s swearing-in ceremony on Monday sounded like a religious revival meeting. The newspaper noted that “[e]xpressions of Christian faith were plentiful throughout the Capitol” during the event.

The newspaper reported that Brownback declared the day of his inauguration a “gift from God,” and said that faith would help the state face its economic and social problems in the same way abolitionists ended “original sin in America.”

As part of Inauguration Day, the Old Supreme Court room on the third floor of the Kansas Statehouse was reserved as a prayer room for all legislators and government officials. Throughout the day, musicians also entertained those “seeking divine guidance.”

The program was sponsored by the Capitol Commission, a ministry in more than a dozen states, as well as the Kansas Family Policy Council, a group whose purpose is to “promote and defend Judea Christian family values,” and Concerned Women for America.

Needless to say, Brownback crossed the church-state line on his first day office. Fortunately, not all lawmakers are set on sidestepping the Constitution.

While Brownback may want to push his religious beliefs on his constituents, Hawaii senators want to ensure the same doesn’t happen in their state.

State Senate leaders have recommended that the Hawaii Senate no longer invite members of the clergy to offer an invocation before floor sessions. The change in policy will be part of the new rules package the body is considering before beginning the legislative session on Wednesday.

“We respect everybody's different levels of faith and the different religions that they support,” state Senate President Shan Tsutsui (D-Kahului), told the Honolulu Star Advertiser. “We don’t think by us not having an invocation at the beginning of session – we’re not making any type of statement, but rather we’re respecting each individual’s religious beliefs.”

That would be a huge step in the right direction, and a strong start to a new year. If only all our government officials could follow their lead.

As always, please keep an eye on governors, legislators and other elected officials in your state. If they’re crossing the church-state line, let us know.