An effort is under way to launch “religious freedom” caucuses in all 50 state legislatures, but critics say the push is really designed to create new political units to undermine the separation of church and state.
Leading the drive is the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative group in Washington, D.C. Brian W. Walsh, executive director of the organization’s American Religious Freedom Program, wrote in the National Review that “American religious freedom is under increasing pressure” thanks to government incursions.
Walsh and his supporters cite the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act as one example. In Kansas, legislators who have joined the campaign complained about the removal of religious symbols from government property and alleged instances of hostility toward religion in public schools.
Caucuses have been formed in nine states – Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Organizers said they hope to have representation in all 50 states by the end of next year.
Although the effort claims to be bipartisan, that’s hardly the case in Kansas, where the caucus consists of 26 Republicans and one Democrat.
Americans United Legislative Director Maggie Garrett said a close eye should be kept on these groups.
“Their definition of ‘religious freedom’ is much different from ours,” said Garrett, “and a committee that consists overwhelmingly of members from one political party is hardly bipartisan. These caucuses should be viewed with skepticism and suspicion as to their true motives.”