Posted by on May 2, 2013 in Blog | 17 comments

Yesterday I met with Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas.  Well… Adam Brown, Cole Morgan, Fred Heeren, Michaelyn Everhart and I. We met at my apartment complex and piled into Adam’s car and headed for Topeka, KS. We were all a bit nervous and were trying to figure out what to say, how to say it, and whether or not certain issues should even be raised. We decided on Abortion, Science Education, and giving atheists a seat “at the table”.

Let’s break this down a bit so you know what we mean:

Abortion: Michaelyn and I were charged with the task of helping Gov. Brownback to see the different between pro-choice, pro-killing babies, and pro-life.  We wanted him to realize that if he honestly was pro-life then he should also be pro-comprehensive sex education. By helping him realize that the “nones” and more specifically atheists are not “pro-killing babies” (I doubt anyone is) but rather “pro-making informed decisions”.  Women are capable of making a decision completely on their own.  By helping them [children] to understand what their options are meaning – birth control, facts about STIs rather than fear mongering, not just “here’s a condom GL”- and that the children being educated also need to understand the mental and emotional aspects of being sexually active.

Brownback’s response: He agreed mostly but said this is not something the Gov. has control over.  This needs to be taken up with the department of education for the state of Kansas.  He did give us the person’s contact information that we should speak to regarding this matter. He nodded in agreement that he understood what I was saying (unfortunately I talked too much and didn’t look over to Michaelyn to give her a chance to speak… sorry Michaelyn) and even intrigued when I added in the mental/emotional perspective but in the end said it was not his responsibility to take on this side of the debate but rather to continue to ensure life is protected.

Science Education: This is where Fred Heeren, a Christian who is also a scientist, uses his expertise to make a dent in Brownback’s “Teach the Controversy” policy.  Fred began by telling his story of how he used to be a YEC and now still has his faith in God but agrees with the leaders in his field, Paleontology, that Evolution is how our Earth came to be in its current form but that God started it. He continued with stating there is “no controversy amongst biologists, paleontologists, and other scientists within this field of expertise.” We tried to get Gov. Brownback to state whether or not he agreed with Fred but in his response I think you will get an understanding.

Brownback’s response: He agreed with Fred that Evolution could have been the mechanism God used in order to create the Earth.  He wouldn’t budge on the teaching of Creationism in public biology classrooms.  He said [paraphrasing] if need be we should add to the conversation and debate it; not subtract from it.  All religious viewpoints should be allowed alongside Creationism and every aspect should be presented and the child should be able to choose after that.

My comments on his response: Seriously?! We should take time away from learning SCIENCE during our SCIENCE class in order to throw around some religious ideas on the subject? This is NOT OK Gov. Brownback.  We need MORE separation.  Children go to class and trust the information that is being taught to them is the truth.  That FACTS are being told to them not thoughts a person has come up with and has never been verified. Abiogenesis is very different than Evolution. Please remember what the scientific process gives us and why it is such a trusted method. Empirical evidence, observable results, and repeatable experimentation should be elevated not diminished or belittled by saying religion should be mixed in. Give the students their BIO 101 class and a World Religions Class.  Teach Creationism from the religious viewpoint that it is derived from.  Remember, Governor Brownback, you represent the entire state of Kansas not just the Catholics.

Finishing his response: He actually told the person sitting in the meeting with us to look into the issue of BioTech and why Intel and other companies like them have not moved to KS. He is a supporter of Biotech and Stem Cell research so Fred hit this portion of his pro-science education speech on the head.

Atheists a seat at the table: Adam, Cole, and Michaelyn touched on these points.  Cole began with spitting out the statistics. 10% of the Kansas population is in the “nones” category.  A larger percentage of his constituency than Catholics and one of the largest minority groups as well.  Michaelyn added that the “millennials” or under 30’s are now at 30% “nones” and he needs to pay attention to this.  He needs to understand that the people who are now voting in this state do not agree with his current policies for Separation of Church and State, Science Education, Comprehensive Sex Education, Abortion, access to medical care, education funding, and so much more. Adam added bits of statistics here and there and did a great job of adding to the conversation at different points throughout the entire 30 min we were given with the Governor.

Brownback’s response: He said he has never given any particular group a mention during his speeches.  He has just never thought about it. After speaking with us he understands how being included would help for the state to start working together.  He wanted us to know that he really did appreciate us coming out and although he had some misconceptions of how we would act, what we would look like/be like, and what we would say he was now glad to have gone through with the meeting and will be happy to meet again in the future.  He even agreed to come out to a special “Town Meeting” with other “nones” in the Kansas City Metro Area.  To hear directly from this new constituency what direction we would like to see the state go and what we feel he can do to help.

My comments: All in all I felt the meeting went well.  He was responsive to our concerns, appeared to take the time to listen, and maintained a body language that was open-minded and interested in what we had to say. As we [liberal, progressive, atheists/”nones”] know, Brownback’s policies and ideas for what the state of Kansas “should be,” do not necessarily align with the majority of us in Kansas.  But, he is at least willing to listen and to me that is a giant step forward from where we were 10 years ago.

We must all remember to vote, stay active in our local governments (city, county, etc.), speak up when injustice occurs, and to stand together.  We may not agree all of the time on taxation or how the state uses it’s funding; but we do agree on issues involving Separation of Church and State.  We want every child to go to a public school, and to feel safe. Not made to feel ashamed for being different; whether that is religious differences, race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. We must all be the change we want to see in our communities.  Live each and every day by example and show the world that it truly is “Ok, to be an atheist.”

Amanda Brown controlling the Senate

Fred Heeren gazing at the Senate Floor

Adam Brown speaking to the House of Representatives

From left to right: Fred Heeren, Michaelyn Everhart, Cole Morgan, Gov. Samuel Brownback, Adam Brown, and Amanda Brown

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