TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has moved a Kansas Statehouse meditation room created by Republicans as a place for prayer and reflection to a less-visible space to create more room for her staff to social distance during the coronavirus pandemic.
The new meditation room is on the northwest side of the building’s basement floor, down an out-of-the-way hall in what used to be a room set aside but only occasionally used for shooting videos and television interviews. A visitor must go through double doors marked as an exit, and pieces of scaffolding and two unused security scanning machines are stored in the hall.
Until earlier this month, the meditation space was on the Statehouse’s second floor, where Kelly and her staff have their offices. It now houses the desks of three governor’s office constituent-services staffers.
“Gov. Kelly is repurposing space that belongs to her office for her administration’s growing constituent services team and to ensure her staff are able to follow recommended social distancing guidelines,” Fitzgerald said in an email to the Associated Press.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican and frequent Kelly critic, called the change “sad” and suggested the governor “increased government so much that staffers need to take over a long-standing room for prayer.”
The old room’s chairs and couches migrated to the new space, along with a white flag featuring a picture of a pine tree under “An appeal to heaven.” The room also contains a large container with soil from each of the state’s counties, blessed in a “holy convocation” in May 2015 to help “unify God’s people,” a sign says.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback created the meditation room on the second floor in 2012, after GOP legislators suggested the Statehouse needed a place for prayer and reflection. It was designated as a meditation room to keep it non-sectarian. The Republican-controlled Legislature had included provisions in state budgets to ensure that the second-floor meditation space was protected, but the most recent one expired July 1.