Attorneys with Americans United for Separation of Church and State today warned Kansas Secretary of State Kris W. Kobach to stop using his office to promote Christianity and to cease coercing employees to attend religious services.
Americans United took action after Courtney Canfield, an employee in the Secretary of State’s office, filed a lawsuit alleging that she was fired after she declined to attend religious services run by Dave DePue, an evangelical chaplain who calls himself the “state minister” of Kansas. In court documents, Canfield asserted that Kobach routinely invited employees to attend DePue’s services and even issued a “prayer guide” for each week’s gathering.
“I’m sure Kansas officials have plenty of secular duties to tend to,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “They need to stop spending time fretting over the spiritual lives of state workers.”
In a letter to Kobach, Americans United explained the government officials may not promote religion in the workplace or proselytize employees.
“By encouraging employees to attend your personal prayer meetings – held in the very office where you conduct the government’s business – you endorse and promote religion,” reads AU’s letter.
It continues, “The fact that your administrative assistant invited your subordinates to this religious activity makes the violation more egregious. Even if attendance may technically be optional, when a direct superior strongly encourages employee attendance at an event that he holds in his office, many employees will consider non-attendance to be a potential threat to their jobs.”
The letter asks Kobach to cease the Bible studies in their current form and tells him to stop using the resources of his office to endorse religion or coerce employees to take part in worship services. It asks for a response within 30 days.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.