Buhler, Kansas — A lawmaker in Kansas has introduced a bill that seeks to protect the display of religious symbols in the state following threats from a prominent atheist organization that it would sue officials in one Kansas city if they did not remove a cross from their welcome sign.
Last year, the city of Buhler refurbished its sign, which had reportedly become old and rusty. Because Buhler has a Mennonite heritage, designers placed a cross on the sign, along with a shock of wheat.
However, when the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) found out about the design, it contacted the city and asserted that the display was unconstitutional because it favored Christianity over other religions. The group threatened to sue if the sign remained.
In response, city officials took down the display, which had been erected on public property, and put up two new ones on private land.
Thinking that the matter was a shame, Kansas Representative Don Schroeder recently proposed a bill in the legislature that seeks to protect religious symbols in the state.
“You can’t separate those two in a Mennonite community,” he stated, referencing the shock of wheat and the cross on Buhler’s sign. “It was the freedom of religion that brought them here, and it was the wheat that sustained their lives once they got here.”
HB2037 would affirm that signs like Buhler’s are indeed legal if they are related to the heritage or history of a municipality. Schroeder testified before the Kansas Federal and State Affairs Committee last Thursday as to why the bill is vital. None spoke that were opposed to the measure.
“A lot of people talk about ‘separation of church and state,'” Schroeder stated. “That’s not in the Constitution. However, there is the Establishment Clause, which says government shall make no law regarding religion. It doesn’t go the other way around. It doesn’t say that religion cannot be involved in government.”
The bill would also enshrine the right to erect displays at public schools that include religious symbols, as long as they are used “in connection with a course of study that is academic, balanced, objective, and not devotional in nature; and neither favor nor disfavor religion, generally, or any particular religious belief.”
However, some atheistic organizations are unhappy about the measure.
“Why would you have in the Constitution the fact that the government can’t interfere with religion, but religion can interfere with the government?” Vickie Sandell Stangl of Americans United for Separation of Church and State told the Kansas City Star. “How does that protect the government?”
House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfried said that he believes the bill is constitutional and expects a vote on it this week.
“I do not believe that having a cross on a sign forces an atheist to be a believer,” Siegfried stated. “I just don’t believe that.”