By Juno Ogle
October 19, 2016
A crowd of 25 to 30 people turned out for the Faith and Public Policy forum Tuesday night in Hays, giving organizers an encouraging sign for future events here.
The event at Sternberg Museum of Natural History was sponsored by advocacy group Kansas Interfaith Action and brought a panel of experts on several policy issues to speak and take questions from the audience.
Rabbi Moti Rieber, executive director of KIFA, moderated the panel.
In his remarks to the audience, Rieber said the current election is changing the dynamic that those with progressive beliefs cannot be religious.
“I’ve been doing faith-based advocacy in Kansas for five years. Every time I get interviewed, people express surprise that a progressive could be religious,” he said.
“Over the past 30 years there’s been a tendency, a decided effort, to make religion into the provenance of the most conservative elements of society.
“I think that the current election is changing that dynamic,” he said. “The moral superiority that has been claimed by conservative Christianity has been exposed. It’s been exposed in Kansas because it doesn’t work, and it’s been exposed on the national level for reasons that I think I don’t need to explain.”
Rieber said society is now at a turning point, where a more progressive voice can be heard in faith discussions.
“I think taking that language or moral basis on these policy positions is a thing whose time has come, particularly in a place like Kansas. We need to take that back,” he said.
Each of the panelists spoke for approximately 15 minutes. After all the presentations were given, the panel took questions.
Heidi Holliday of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth spoke on the state budget and tax issues. Amanda Gress of Kansas Action for Children spoke on the effects of welfare reform on Kansas children, especially early childhood programs. David Jordan, Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, talked about the economic and health effects on the state declining to expand Medicare. Rieber spoke about concealed carry of firearms on campus, and Dorothy Barnett of the Climate and Energy Project spoke about clean energy and climate issues.
The Hays presentation was the last of the public policy forums the group has conducted. Others were in Wichita, Salina and Pittsburg.
Rieber said he was pleased with the turnout and discussion, and sees Hays as a potential growth area for KIFA.
“We have friends here, we have people who are interested in our topics,” he said. “We also don’t want to be niche organization that’s just Lawrence and Topeka. We want to be statewide.”
One of those friends includes Janis Lee, former Democratic state senator who now resides in Hays. Lee helped organize Wednesday’s event.
“It’s important to have a discussion for the community to understand, first of all, what’s happening with the budget and the effect of the services that are provided in our community,” she said.
Lee asked several questions regarding the effects of the state declining Medicaid expansion on medical, mental health and disability services.
Adam Kober, a Fort Hays State University student, said he attended because he was curious to know what is going on in Kansas. He said he is agnostic, but was glad to hear people from different religions shared his beliefs.
“I learned that as a Democrat personally that I’m not alone, and it’s good to know people who are from religious paths are kind of agreeing with where we’re at,” he said.
The concealed carry on campus issue was important to him as a student, he said, but the other issues also interested him.
“I really also enjoyed hearing about clean energy and the different steps we’re taking to help kids who are poor. It’s good to know these kinds of efforts are in existence,” he said.