Let’s say some people at a company want to get together during lunch hour and hold a Bible study. It’s totally voluntary, and they don’t pressure anyone else to attend. This is not likely to cause any problems.
But let’s say the boss organized the Bible study and attends it regularly. Now we might have a problem if subordinates are coerced to attend overtly or even subtly. (If, for example, those who attend get in good with the boss and are first in line for promotions, raises, etc.)
Now let’s say this is taking place at a government office. The problem just got a lot worse because government agencies are absolutely forbidden from using religion as a yardstick to judge employees.
A scenario like this is playing out in Kansas, a state that has been experimenting with a sort of de facto “faith-based” government under Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. Courtney Canfield, a business-filing specialist at the Secretary of State’s Office, says she was fired in 2013 because she declined to attend a Christian service that was heavily promoted by Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rucker.
Canfield’s complaint alleges that the Secretary of State’s Office routinely invited employees to attend services conducted by Dave DePue, a minister who acts as a sort of “unofficial pastor” to Kansas lawmakers and officials, reported the Wichita Eagle.
“These invitations were distributed during normal business hours and included a ‘prayer guide’ to be utilized at that week’s service,” Canfield’s lawsuit reads. “Despite the repeated invitations, Plaintiff never attended such a service. While Plaintiff was a Methodist, she did not regularly attend church services or otherwise practice any particular religious beliefs in any way.”
The lawsuit also asserts that Rucker even visited Canfield’s grandmother, an official in the Kansas Republican Party, and informed her that Canfield would be fired and that the reason was that she “just doesn’t go to church.”
Kris Kobach, Kansas’ secretary of state, has called the lawsuit baseless. Kobach insists that Canfield was fired for poor performance, but Canfield’s lawsuits notes that she had regular promotions and no disciplinary actions until November of 2013, when a coworker accused her of a relatively trivial infraction of using an office phone to make a personal call.
It’s not uncommon for the two sides to be polarized in employment cases like this. One side makes an allegation, and the other side denies it. One of the reasons we have a court system is to weigh the evidence, find out what really happened and make a judgment.
I’m willing to let that system play out and won’t claim to know all of the facts here. But I do know that these are serious allegations, and if Canfield really was treated in the manner she claims, her civil rights were violated.
I also know this: All of this could have been avoided if officials in Kansas spent more time doing their jobs and less time worrying about the spiritual lives of their employees.
A good first step would be to send that “unofficial” chaplain packing. The capital of Kansas is Topeka, and the city and its surrounding metropolitan area have a population of about 234,000. There appears to be no shortage of houses of worship there.
If members of the Kansas government feel the need for spiritual solace, let them avail themselves of one of those.