Kansas Interfaith Action works to bring moral voice to public policy in Kansas

KIFA Board chair Rev. Sarah Oglesby-Dunegan has been a leader in the campaign to expand Medicaid in Kansas

People of faith and conscience throughout Kansas want to support government policies that promote justice and fairness, care for working people and the less fortunate, and protect our citizens from violence, whether it’s the violence of unrestricted guns or the violence of unaddressed climate disruption.

Organizing them do this is the role of Kansas Interfaith Action. KIFA is a statewide, faith-based issue-advocacy organization whose mission is to build a strong coalition of people of faith and conscience throughout the state, and to represent the faith community in Kansas’ state legislature, on important social, economic, and climate justice issues. Made up of individuals and congregations primarily from mainline Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim communities, KIFA members are shaped by the values of our diverse faiths, which connect us to an timeless concern for justice, peace, and human dignity. Rooted in faith, we join hands across difference to work for moral public policy in Kansas.

KIFA Executive Director Rabbi Moti Rieber and a group of Kansas clergy plan strategy before a demonstration in the state capitol in support of Medicaid Expansion

People of faith have an important role to play in making sure that government works for moral purpose, and not just for the benefit of donors and lobbyists. We have time-honored teachings that tell us that we are to care for the widow, the orphan and the immigrant; we have important community connections and moral stature in our communities; and we have “social capital”, networks of people who know how important human connection is, and who work to build it every day.

Some might think of advocacy as something congregations shouldn’t do. We disagree. Congregations and individuals of faith can and do pray for the well-being of their fellow citizens, particularly those who are in harm’s way. They do mission work that helps alleviate distress. But increasingly, people want to address not just the symptoms, but the disease, and to do that, we need to address root causes. Where mission work cleans the river, advocacy looks upstream to see why the river is polluted in the first place — and works to stop it there. There can be no holier work than that!

KIFA takes as its starting point what we, after Dr. King, call the “four evils”: racism/discrimination, economic injustice, gun violence, and climate disruption. All the issues we work on fall into one or more of these categories.

KIFA’s legislative priorities for 2020 include:

  • Expanding Medicaid. This has been our highest legislative priority for the past three years. We strongly believe that healthcare is a human right and people should not be denied access to basic medical care due to inability to pay. Expansion would enable 150,000 low-income Kansans to access healthcare, would bring millions of federal dollars to the state, and would help our struggling rural hospitals. We call for a clean expansion bill, without unnecessary conditions or delays.
  • Payday loan reform. Payday loans are short-term, high-interest loans that often trap working people in a cycle of debt. Annual interest rates on these loans are over 390%, and a $300 loan will, on average, take six months to repay and cost $750. KIFA is part of a statewide coalition introducing bipartisan legislation to ease the conditions of these loans to make them less onerous for borrowers.
  • Criminal justice reform. Like most states, Kansas has significant racial disparities in enforcement and sentencing. Priorities this year include passing the Smart Justice Act, which includes three components: the return of all private property seized under civil forfeiture by police upon acquittal, banning the felony question on state job applications, and probation reform. In addition, we call for decriminalizing drug offenses, including expunging the records of those who were caught up in the disastrous “war on drugs.”
  • “Gunsense” legislation. A “red flag law” would develop a court process to temporarily remove firearms from a person who poses an imminent danger to others or themselves. We also oppose any legislation that would further loosen Kansas’ already too-lax gun laws.
  • Effective climate action. Kansas must begin to plan now for the worsening impact of climate change on Kansas residents and agriculture. Such a plan would include a robust commitment to energy efficiency and clean energy — making Kansas’ energy sector 100% carbon-neutral by 2030 — and building resilience to climate disruption into all our future planning decisions.
Kansas clergy meet with Gov. Kelly as part of KIFA Advocacy Day, March 2019

Many people are concerned with what happens in Washington, and rightly so. But our lives – and more importantly, the lives of our less-fortunate neighbors – are impacted much more directly by what happens in Topeka. An individual, a faith community, or an organization like KIFA can have much more of an impact here.

There are many ways to get involved in our work! Visit our website to sign up for updates, or join our page on Facebook (facebook.com/kansasinterfaithaction). Particularly during the legislative session, there are ongoing action alerts (reaching out to legislators from home) or opportunities to come to Topeka for Advocacy Days on our various policy priorities. We are happy to visit your congregation or social group to speak about our work. Help us build a strong faith voice for justice in Kansas!