In a move that has been applauded by many in the Christian community, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback issued an executive order Tuesday prohibiting the state from taking action against clergy or religious social service agencies who refuse service to same-sex couples due to their religious beliefs.
According to a press release from the Governor's Office, Executive Order 15-05, "Preservation and Protection of Religious Freedom," argues that both the United States Constitution and the State of Kansas have provisions which restrict government interference with the right of individuals to practice religion according to their consciences.
Thus, Brownback's order explicitly prohibits state officials from taking "discriminatory action" against both clergy members and religious organizations who apply that religious practice to facilitation of services for homosexual couples.
"The State Government is prohibited from taking any action inconsistent with the restrictions placed upon the State Government by the United States Constitution, or the Kansas Constitution, or the Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, against any individual clergy, religious leader, or religious organization on the basis that such person or organization believes or sincerely acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman," the order reads.
Brownback's order comes less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in all 50 states. Among other states, the SCOTUS decision overturned the will of 70 percent of Kansas voters who, in 2005, approved an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
According to a report from the The Wichita Eagle, the order came on the same day state employees were informed their same-sex spouses could be added to health insurance plans.
"We have a duty to govern and to govern in accordance with the Constitution as it has been determined by the Supreme Court decision," Brownback said in a statement. "We also recognize that religious liberty is at the heart of who we are as Kansans and Americans, and should be protected."
Brownback explained that the order protects "Kansas clergy and religious organizations from being forced to participate in activities that violate their sincerely and deeply held beliefs."
The move has been applauded by many in the Christian community, including the Kansas Conference of Catholic Bishops, who released an official statement on Tuesday asserting that freedom of religion in American should extend outside the church.
"In this country, religious freedom has meant the right to live one's faith in one's daily life, at home and at work, in private and in public," the statement said.
"Given the far reaching effects that redefining marriage will have on the law, and the fact that this incredibly consequential change in national social policy was effected by judicial fiat rather than the democratic process, there is tremendous uncertainty as to what the Obergefell decision will mean for everyday people just trying to live their faith as they always have," the Catholic bishops' statement continued.
Pastor Terry Fox also expressed his approval of the order, telling The Eagle that it is "very, very encouraging that on the day that some other news was breaking that Gov. Brownback is attempting to bring religious protection to some of the people of Kansas and certainly the conservative Christian people of Kansas."
However, Fox explained that he is hoping such religious freedom protections will eventually extend to business owners as well. He told the news source that he met with 60 pastors in Wichita on Tuesday and that they plan to push for additional religious freedom protections.
"There is a great passion here that we need some religious freedom protection not just for churches but for Christian business owners," he said.