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Kansas Reflector’s church and state series made waves. Here’s a guide to commentary it inspired.


Kansas Reflector’s church and state series made waves. Here’s a guide to commentary it inspired.

Jun 05, 2023 | 4:33 am ET
By Clay Wirestone
Kansas Reflector’s church and state series made waves. Here’s a guide to commentary it inspired.
One of four allegorical murals toward the top of the Statehouse keeps watch on lawmakers and the public. Knowledge is the woman in the center with Temperance on the left and Religion on the right. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

When editor Sherman Smith and reporter Rachel Mipro set out to report and write the church and state series for Kansas Reflector, each had different thoughts about how their stories might land. Mipro, who started work for us in September, told us in this week’s podcast that she imagined a strong response from readers. Smith, who has spent a few more years in the journalistic trenches, didn’t know what to expect.

Each one’s expectations were exceeded, and then some.

Church and State

Kansas Reflector examined the influence of religious views on state government through a series of stories.

We’ve never seen this volume of discussion generated by any series before. While Kansas Reflector has broken big stories, other outlets usually respond by following up our reporting with stories of their own. When it came to church and state, opinion pages and columnists set to work. While I’ve written about some of these pieces before, more folks keep writing them. With the podcast’s release, I thought it an opportune time to round up every bit of response I’ve seen to the series — 10 pieces in all.

To highlight the most recent work, I’m listing the columns, editorials and roundups in reverse chronological order. Let me know if you’ve seen any others.


Rod Haxton: Separation of church and sanity

“Like the lesser prairie chicken, Christians are apparently an endangered species in need of protection from drag queens, critical race theory, books about gay penguins and women who have the audacity to believe they should be in control of their lives and their bodies.

There are apparently a lot of things in this world from which a segment of our population believes it needs to seek refuge.”


Michael Smith: Yes, liberal Christians are a thing

Insight Kansas, May 26

“Kansas Reflector reporters Sherman Smith and Rachel Mirpo are trying to give us (liberal Christians) our due. Their recent series about religious faith and Kansas politics focuses on the Kansas Legislature’s 2023 session, particularly the priorities of fundamentalist, evangelical Christians. These include criminalizing abortion, mandating discrimination against LGBTQ persons, ‘parents’ rights,’ promotion of religious schools instead of public ones, and attacks on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”


Clay Wirestone: Revelations of religious zealotry infiltrating Kansas politics raise alarms near and far

Kansas Reflector, May 24

“From my perch as opinion editor, I don’t think it’s a great look for a county party to make such easily disprovable statements. But then, I’m probably one of the people that Peters would want to create a “hostile environment” for and drive out of the state.”


Jamie Frazier: For an example of inclusive and caring community in Kansas, just look back 60 years

Kansas Reflector, May 23

“In Sherman Smith’s recent article, ‘Church and state: Kansas Republicans target ’eminently exploitable’ LGBTQ community,’ a nurse from Wiley Elementary School was quoted saying: ‘At the high school, they’re allowing kids to identify as cats and provided them litter boxes.’ This was part of a ‘serious’ conversation about transgender youth during a Republican meeting. The allegation was so absurd I had to read it twice for it to sink in.”


Steve Kraske and Rachel Mipro: Kansas: Where church and state are anything but separate

KCUR radio, May 22

“With supermajority control of both the Senate and House, Republican lawmakers in Kansas have routinely entertained policy ideas shaped by fringe religious views — restrictions placed on transgender residents, anti-abortion propaganda, tax dollars for private schools and a refusal to acknowledge systemic racism.

“Reporters at The Kansas Reflector have been taking a close look at how religion can be seen in every corner of the statehouse, and how it’s been exploited to justify attacks on marginalized people and inspire fear in voters.”


Clay Wirestone: Religious bullies in Kansas politics fantasize about being victims of the left. Don’t fall for it.

Kansas Reflector, May 22

“My understanding of Christianity was shaped by countless Sunday school lessons in the Presbyterian church of my youth. This yen for domination has nothing to do with what I learned, or what I heard preached  from the pulpit every Sunday. Indeed, the more one reads the actual words of Jesus in the Christian Bible, the more one realizes that he put himself at odds with the government of his time and preached a message of love and acceptance. Those who would meld their religious beliefs with the government of Kansas aren’t Christians, at least not traditional ones. They’re the Romans of our day and age, men and women obsessed with their own authority.”


Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes: Kansas Republicans use religion to fuel hate and nationalism. That’s not Christianity

Kansas City Star, May 21

“Reporting from the nonprofit Kansas Reflector over the past several weeks highlights that for leaders in the Kansas Republican Party, faith is a weapon to institutionalize harm against vulnerable Kansans whose own experiences do not fit into a narrow view of the world. As a leader in our state and as a Christian myself, I condemn the violent, extreme Christian nationalism rooted in white supremacy that has seeped into our statehouse. I call on my colleagues in leadership to do the same.”


St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board: Hot mic moment for Kansas GOP official reveals the depth of party’s hostility

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 21

“For anyone who wonders why legislators in red states like Missouri keep passing laws that seem to have no purpose but to harass transgender citizens or people with liberal racial views and others like them, a Republican Party official in Kansas blithely offers this explanation: It’s part of a deliberate effort to hound anyone from these states who doesn’t share the hard-right ideology of their political leaders.”


Rep. Tobias Schlingensiepen: Legislators aren’t on a quest to make Kansas a more Christ-like state. It’s about power.

Topeka Capital-Journal, May 19

“For years, as a pastor, I have seen this ploy taking shape in pulpits across the state. Now, as a state legislator, I see long-held plans coming to fruition in Kansas’s chief lawmaking body. From banning mental health care for our trans children to state-sanctioned discrimination of all transgender Kansans, a litany of bills were pushed this year to completely erase members of the LGBTQ community from public life.”


Kansas City Star editorial board: GOP chief wants to make Kansas ‘hostile’ to push out ‘bad people’ he disagrees with

Kansas City Star, May 17

“Nationwide, conservatives unleashed by Donald Trump’s political ascent have made increasingly clear their desire to use the levers of government to squelch dissent and ways of thinking and living they dislike. Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban is a hero to this crowd. So is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has used his powers to punish one of his state’s biggest employers — the Walt Disney Company — for the crime of speaking out against the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law there.”


I want to thank everyone who took the time to share their takes on the series. Too often, we read news stories or series and simply shake our heads in despair. Engaging in a serious public conversation shows the value of quality reporting and opinion writing. It shows that all of us in the news media can rise to the occasion. Let’s continue to do so.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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