Atheists Meet with Conservative Kansas Governor Sam Brownback

Sometime last year, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback was interviewed on a call-in radio show. A listener asked him on air if he would ever consider meeting with atheists, and Brownback said he would. Was he just trying to be nice?

It didn’t matter. Local atheists worked for months to get that “promised” meeting with him and yesterday a small group of them (along with one Christian) finally met with the Governor:

(From left to right) Fred Heeren, Michaelyn Everhart, Cole Morgan, Gov. Sam Brownback, Adam Brown, and Amanda Brown

To no one’s surprise, Brownback didn’t change his mind on the major social issues. But you have to give him some credit for taking the time to listen to atheists’ concerns, even if there wasn’t much more to it than that.

Staks Rosch spoke with meeting attendee Adam Brown and wrote about the evolution conversation:

[Christian Fred] Heeren spoke to the Governor about getting Creationism our of science classes. Brownback is a supporter of “teaching the controversy” and so Heeren pointed out that among the science community there is no controversy. Brownback admitted that he does accept the science of evolution, but not as it related to human origin. Heeren pushed for the view that God guided the evolutionary process and tried to get Brownback to acknowledge the scientific view of the age of the universe.

Amazing that we still have to talk about basic science with some politicians in this day and age…

Amanda Brown was also at the meeting. She tried at one point to get the Governor to at least mention atheists in his speeches as part of the makeup of Kansas, thinking that would be an easy-to-accept position. He didn’t go for it, but he did say something else that was surprising to hear:

[Brownback] said he has never given any particular group a mention during his speeches. He has just never thought about it. After speaking with us [atheists] he understands how being included would help for the state to start working together. He wanted us to know that he really did appreciate us coming out and although he had some misconceptions of how we would act, what we would look like/be like, and what we would say he was now glad to have gone through with the meeting and will be happy to meet again in the future. He even agreed to come out to a special “Town Meeting” with other “nones” in the Kansas City Metro Area. To hear directly from this new constituency what direction we would like to see the state go and what we feel he can do to help.

Again, this may just be the empty promises of a politician, but it’s still a nice gesture. And you can bet the atheists will follow up with his staff.

No matter what you think of Brownback, this is the sort of meeting that needs to happen across the country, regardless of the Governors’ parties. They need to hear our concerns and demands. Sure they can (and probably will) ignore us, but it’s a lot easier to dismiss us if you haven’t spoken with us and heard our stories.

Huge hats off to the atheists here for never giving up on this meeting and making it happen.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Brownback admitted that he does accept the science of evolution, but not as it related to human origin

    He should also have admitted that his view on this is based on religion, and that he has no business using the public schools to push it on children.

    • ORAXX

      It amounts to the governor, and others, attempting to decide what’s true. A decision that no one gets to make.

  • The Captain

    “although he had some misconceptions of how we would act, what we would look like/be like, and what we would say”

    What the bloody hell? Did he think we would have fucking horns coming out of our heads and baby blood on our mouths?

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Yes, exactly. I would be very interested to somehow learn without embarrassing the Governor what he expected their appearance and behavior would be. My fantasy of his fantasy is something like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSTtY6Ther8
      I hope I’m very wrong.

    • Luther

      That is a very honest statement on his part. I would like to have it repeated, not to discredit him, but to open up the idea in others that we are not their stereotypes.

    • Gus Snarp

      My thoughts exactly. But at least now he knows better.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rocky-Morrison/100001552602936 Rocky Morrison

      Well, considering that Cole Morgan and a friend of his called Christians Delusional and Psychotic for several years on a local KC Blog, and the local atheist meetup site is full of references to “Batshit Crazy” believers where the heck would he get any ideas like that?

      Who ya kiddin?

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rocky-Morrison/100001552602936 Rocky Morrison

        Oh, and look at the site run by the Brown’s…full of insults and ridicule.

        Uh, do you think it bothers anyone?

        Duh.

  • Kinky F.

    I disagree in “having to give him some credit for listening.” Nonsense. It was nothing more than his back to the wall from a publicity stunt; I would bet the deed to the house his thought process was something akin to “okay, I’ll sit here and glad-handle them for an hour or two, then go home, shower the atheist off my skin and resume things as normal”.

    • 3lemenope

      That doesn’t wash, if only because no politician in Kansas ever lost votes (at least, none they hadn’t already lost) by scapegoating non-believers. He would *gain* points in many quarters by cold shouldering groups like this one. So I do give him points for doing a publicity stunt with a group of people that many of his constituents either don’t believe really exist or if they do are depraved subhuman beasts.

      • blasphemous_kansan

        You’re totally correct. With regards to the Brownback base the safer and more conservative (heh) action would have been to totally ignore this particular activity.

        Don’t get me wrong, I believe that Brownback’s social and political philosophy are only slightly less morally bankrupt than Perry or Santorum (not by much), and his shoehorned religious displays are as corny as Kansas on July 4 (he writes ‘JESUS’ at the top of literally every speech and notecard). But if anyone is going to make the claim that he is anything but decent, polite, and genuine in a face-to-face encounter, then they are wrong. I know people who’ve worked closely in Mr. Brownback’s staff (closeted liberals and atheists, if you can believe it!) and as much as it pains me to say it, I have come to believe that he’s really a nice guy.

        The fact that he is actually so kind and personable make the caveman policies of the current legislative body in Kansas even harder to stomach.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Why was the Christian there? Did the poor Conservative feel like he would get ganged up on? Or did he just feel that he needed protection against the evil that is us non-believers?

    • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

      The Christian is apparently very liberal and the atheist group invited him along because he has worked well with them in the past. They thought he might be helpful in this meeting and apparently he was.

  • DougI

    The popular joke here in Kansas is not to refer to him as governor but as Pastor Brownback. About the only good thing the ass clown as done is make a lot more Republicans hate the Republican party.

    • ORAXX

      That can’t be all bad.

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

    I think the important point here is that Our Meme (Atheism) was given the chance to be heard and processed, by someone who makes policy. Someone who sits at the very center of The Imaginary Kentuckian Theocracy. As far as I understand it Meme exposure requires, more or less, direct person to person transmission. He opened himself up to listening to their concerns, now, no matter what his prejudices are, that information is part of his thought processes.

    • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

      As a side not though if I were to meet the governor of a theocratic state I would dress accordingly, I would wear my three piece suit most likely. I would also shave my beard and get a hair cut. Why might you ask, because there is an implied dress code in politics, it might very well be a prejudice but no matter, if you look like them and act like them but have a radically different message than them, then they are taken aback by your professionalism. Realistically one should not leave one’s self open to prejudice and dressing like a beach bum is a good way to illicit an unfavorable first impression.

      • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

        I once got a ticket for expired tabs. I got my hair cut and beard trimmed the day before the hearing. The day of the hearing I put on my suit and put the documents in my briefcase and showed up 15 minutes early.
        The court had a few defendants in it before my case was heard, they were dressed in basically inappropriate clothing and had disrespectful attitudes.
        After they left, the Judge took a few minutes to himself and then addressed me. He asked me, “Are you waiting for your client? To which I replied, “No Sir, I am next on your docket.” He replied, “Oh I thought you were a lawyer.” Ten minutes later my case was reduced to a 60 dollar fine, the cost of the hearing, saving me $200. When I asked the judge why he reduced my fine he replied, “You showed up on time, dressed appropriately, conceded to my authority and displayed favorable respect for the protocols of professionalism.”
        Yes the world should not be this way and a person should be able to dress anyway they want and still get the respect they deserve but I am going to tell you all, If we want Atheism to be taken seriously then we all better act professional.

      • Castilliano

        I agree.
        I avoid wearing suits and ties, but my first reaction at the picture was surprise at how they were dressed (except for the one guy on the left, who happens to be the Christian).
        I dislike the nature of the political game (and its dress code), but if you’re going to lobby a cause, you should look professional. It should look like you thought the meeting was important enough to dress up for.

        • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

          I’ve been pissed off about this since our little American Atheist (Hobby) Lobby’ists went before a Congressional Subcommittee dressed like they were on their way to a frakken Goth Party. I’m pretty sure the Congressmen took one look at them and thought, “Wow here are people who don’t have a clue how far they are out of their league.”

          • Baby_Raptor

            I don’t know…With our current crop of Congresscritters, is *anyone* really out of their league when talking to them?

            And really, as long as they acted professional and respectful, I wouldn’t write them off due to their clothing.

            • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

              I get what you are saying, that you wouldn’t write them off because of their clothing and neither would I, but you cannot deny (or maybe you can) that first impressions are often the determining factor of how we perceive another person. I try not to judge others by their appearance but we are talking about people who, are lawyers, who believe they deserve respect, because of the education they have and because of their status and profession. Traditionalism’s suck. I totally get that but this is not year 2142 when traditional views of decorum are not followed. It’s 2013 and those values still hold sway over many individuals, especially those who are in positions of power, politics and business. Thus those individuals have an expectation that they will meet their counterparts on equal terms. One Professional to another Professional. If a person fails to meet those standards, i.e. inappropriately uniformed, then that person will not be taken seriously. The uniform dress code of federal politicians is Business Professional. A person might be able to wear jeans and a t-shirt when dealing with their local mayor but not when meeting with a federal government politician.

              • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

                Off the top of my head I know of only four individuals who didn’t wear Business Professional, when meeting a congressional committee, they are Bill Gates (dress shirt, dress pants, no tie and a sport coat), Steve Jobs (Polo and jeans), Larry Ellison (turtleneck shirt, sport coat and jeans) and Howard Hughes who was simply dressed far better than the congressmen he was dealing with. (they complained about it) I guess when you are worth massive amounts of cash (and jobs) you can wear what you want to a Congressional committee.

                • hello world

                  All of those outfits you mention are still miles above a t-shirt and jeans when it comes to being respected professionally. If those two men had put on a polo shirt, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Business Casual would have been fine for a meeting with the governor or any business meeting, not simply casual.

                • Gus Snarp

                  Yeah, if you’re worth massive amounts of cash you can wear whatever you want. I’ve come to the conclusion that the better dressed person is usually the one with the least power. Few people wear suits anymore outside of bankers and lawyers, so if you see a person downtown in a suit, odds are they’re selling something or applying for a job. Today the suit is a way of saying you respect the authority of the person you’re dealing with. Meanwhile, business owners often wear shorts and t-shirts on a daily basis, and only when dealing with major clients or investors do they suddenly don a suit and tie.

      • Ibis3

        Totally agree. Wearing street clothes to such a meeting is like voluntarily taking a submissive position (i.e. “I’m a plebe nobody just happy to get my pic taken with someone famous”). Wearing business clothes is a way of signalling that you’re serious and deserve to be taken seriously (i.e. “You may be the governor, but that means *you* represent and work for *me*–we’re peers of the same class.”).

      • Gus Snarp

        Well, I wouldn’t shave, but I’d certainly make sure I was nicely trimmed.

  • Rain

    Christians always have such nice ties. Let’s give credit where credit is due folks.

  • guest

    I’m sure that after the meeting he went and “prayed” for their souls…to burn in Hell.

    • r.holmgren

      Ya, you’re sure of this, just like you’re sure that inanimate and inorganic gases evolved into life and that a material universe popped into existence from literally nothing material without a cause. Cuz like, your certainty is based on science – right?

      • blasphemous_kansan

        Why’d you stop linking your blog with your trolling comments?

        Did you realize how much of a hypocrite it revealed you to be, or did that godawful blue start to hurt your eyes, too?

        • r.holmgren

          How is posting comments hypocritical?
          thesauros-store.blogspot.com
          Is that better?

      • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Bubba Tarandfeathered

        Either case is plausible – but one of these is not like the other – one can be tested whereas the other requires the observer to suspend his disbelief and take a leap of faith – every breath you take – is evidence that reality is being tested and verified – don’t believe me – then hold your breath longer than you ever have and see if your faith will save your life.

      • Gus Snarp

        Actually, I’m pretty sure it was mostly liquids, and there were definitely organic chemicals involved, since that just means they contained carbon.

  • guest

    Nice to see the two guys in the middle got all dressed up to meet the governor. Way to make an impression. SMH


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