Topeka State Board of Education member John Bacon has charged taxpayers for his expenses to attend a church-school sponsored event that featured leaders of the movement to make the Bible the foundation of public life.
The conference brought together leading Christian activists, including David Barton, founder and president of WallBuilders; Tim Wildmon, president of American Family Assn., and the American Family Radio network; Ken Ham, leader of Answers in Genesis; and Ron Carlson, a minister and anti-evolution speaker.
"I would encourage any member of the state board, or any public official, to get informed about these issues," Bacon said.
Bacon said he gained valuable information at the conference held Nov. 11-12 in McPherson and thought being reimbursed by the state was justified.
The expense request included his board salary for two days, per diem for two days and mileage to and from Olathe. The final report hasn't been tabulated yet, but it is expected to cost about $500.
Bacon, a Republican from Olathe, is one of the six-member majority on the board that approved public school science standards that open up evolution to criticism and were sought by proponents of intelligent design.
He also has spoken in favor of vouchers for private schools, expansion of charter schools, and requiring a permission slip for students to take sex education classes - all hotly contested issues now before the board.
This week, Bacon sought and received education board approval for expenses to what was called the Worldview Conference that was sponsored by the Elyria Christian School in McPherson.
David Case, the administrator of Elyria Christian School, the event sponsor, described the conference as a way to assert that the Bible was integral in the founding of the United States and that modern-day society tries to hide that fact.
"The greatest force in our society today is secularism," Case said. "There is a blatant attempt to remove anything spiritual or religious from the public sphere, and that is not honest in terms of our culture."
He said about 1,200 people attended the conference.
Bacon said he went to the conference because he was familiar with Barton's work, and wanted to hear information on creationism and evolution, both topics that have been before the board.
He said the conference featured Christian organizations that he thought represented "most of our population."
Barton has gained national attention for his views that the founders of the United States were evangelical Christians and that the separation of church and state was a myth.
The other speakers say that evolution is wrong and that the Bible contains the true story about the origins of life.
Case said he found nothing wrong with a public official charging taxpayers to attend the conference because it provided information on issues in the public realm, such as evolution.
He said there was no evidence of common ancestors of different species.
"Scientists are ignoring the factual record. Why can't we include in science class any explanation that there would be God or a higher power, even if the scientific evidence supports it?" he asked.
When state education board members travel it is usually to conferences and seminars dealing with public school issues.
Board member Connie Morris made headlines earlier this year for staying at a $339 per night Miami resort for six nights at a conference on magnet schools. After a public furor over the expenses, she reimbursed the state $2,890 of the approximately $3,900 in total expenses from the trip.
At that time, the board rejected any changes to its travel policies.