Church and state

Column: Different faiths find common ground in Kansas Senate bill

Michael Schuttloffel is the executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference.

Michael Schuttloffel is the executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference.

by Michael Schuttloffel

As we approach the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing 95 theses to the door

of Wittenberg Castle Church, it is worth considering how history takes many surprising twists and turns.

The modern secular state was born out of a desire to end Europe’s post-Reformation religious wars, but now the militant secularism of the modern state is unifying long-estranged Christian churches in a fight for faith’s rightful place in public life.

Christians with much still dividing them are being driven into each other’s arms by those who would turn the First Amendment on its head and make it an instrument of protection for the state against religion.

Freedom of religion is being defined down to mean nothing more than the freedom to worship in a private setting.  The freedom to live one’s faith — individually and corporately, as full participants in society — is being lost.

Legislation pending before the Kansas Legislature offers one small example of believers coming together across theological lines.  SB 175 would ensure that religious student groups at public universities are allowed to require their members and leaders to share the group’s faith.  Under the bill, the Catholic Student Union would continue to be free to require its members to be Catholic, the Baptist Student Association would be free to require that its president be Baptist, etc.

Who would force a Christian student group to have an atheist serve as its president?  Why, the guardians of free inquiry, of course.

Dozens of religious student groups in other states have been driven off campus because some universities have instituted “all-comers” policies, which require groups to accept all-comers as members and even leaders, regardless of whether they share the groups’ beliefs.  While the U.S. Supreme Court says that such policies are constitutional only if they apply to all student groups, they are, in fact, being used to target religious students whose beliefs are out of sync with those of the budding community organizers running student government and their university administrator enablers.

In 2011, the University of Oklahoma Student Association announced a policy that would prohibit religious student associations from using religious criteria for membership and leadership.  The policy was ultimately rescinded, and last year Oklahoma’s Legislature unanimously passed the same legislation Kansas is now considering.  Perhaps OU would have been better served worrying about some of its fraternities instead of whether a religious student group requires its president to believe in God.

Believers from different faith traditions are increasingly finding common ground, thanks in no small part to antireligious hostility in government, academia and the culture at large.  SB 175 offers some small measure of such common ground, as well as a dose of something increasingly uncommon in our politics: common sense.

About the author

Michael Schuttloffel

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