Archive for Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Churches lobby for social services, school funding

February 9, 2005


— Members of about a dozen Christian churches and groups Tuesday called on lawmakers to increase funding for public schools and social services, and to abolish the death penalty.

Not on the agenda of the Legislative Event for Advocacy in Faith was a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage that will be decided April 5. The amendment was supported in the Legislature by some Christian ministers.

But organizers and speakers at the event said Christians were divided on the issue of the amendment, while they were generally in agreement on trying to protect vulnerable Kansans and educate children.

"The issues that are really a priority are the issues of social justice," said keynote speaker Melinda Lewis, director of policy advocacy and research at El Centro Inc. in Kansas City, Kan. "How do we protect the very, very vulnerable in our society?"

Workshops and speakers at the event, held at First United Methodist Church, tackled the thorny political issues being debated at the nearby Statehouse. Some legislators later met with the about 200 attendees.

Kansas-area Bishop of the United Methodist Church Scott Jones, of Wichita, said lawmakers were under a lot of pressure, but he hoped the event would provide them a moral compass on the issues of poverty and education.

"The government should be funding high quality education and ensuring equal access for all of its citizens," Jones said.

The Legislature faces an April 12 deadline from the Kansas Supreme Court to increase school funding and distribute the finances more equitably.

On health care, Jones said the system was in "crisis" and needed more funding from the government.

"I want the budget to address the social safety net for poor children in Kansas," he said.

Many at the event said they were concerned about President Bush's proposed budget, which cuts some social service programs.

"It has been painful to see what beneficial programs are proposed to be cut," said Margaret Arnold, who attended the event with her husband, Bill; both are retired Kansas University professors who live in Lawrence.

"I would pay more in taxes, both state and federal, to meet the priorities," she said.

Paul Johnson, of rural Perry, who represents the religious-based Public Assistance Coalition of Kansas, said the nation needed to decide whether it was going to continue increasing funds for the military and security at the expense of funding for the elderly, disabled and children.

He said the time had come for a national debate on whether the United States was going to solve the world's problems "with the barrel of a gun."

The event was sponsored by the Kansas East and Kansas West United Methodist Women, Kansas Ecumenical Ministries, which represents nine denominations, Kansas Interfaith Impact, and Church Women United in Kansas.

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