Liberty and limited government on August 2 ballot

When individual liberty is ignored, Kansas has often gone off the rails.



July 6, 2022 - 2:28 PM

John Brown, the abolitionist

Kansas legislators want to enlarge their power to control women’s lives. They have proposed a constitutional amendment on the August 2 ballot that hands them that power. Their plan distrusts women and will expand the scope of government. Kansans who value individual liberty and limited government should view this proposition with profound skepticism.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that the Bill of Rights of the Kansas Constitution “affords protection of the right of personal autonomy, which includes the ability to control one’s own body, to assert bodily integrity, and to exercise self-determination. This right allows a woman to make her own decisions regarding her body, health, family formation, and family life — decisions that can include whether to continue a pregnancy.”

This Court ruling is in line with Kansans who value individual liberty and limited government — core principles that have guided our elected officials since statehood. These beliefs gave our state an extraordinary boost in its early years. Most of the state’s 50 million acres were moved from public domain into private hands. Two hundred thousand farms were opened. Business and entrepreneurship were encouraged and took root. Local control was firmly established for governing local schools, cities, and counties. Our population mushroomed. Our dedication to personal freedom and small government laid the foundation for the prosperous state we live in today.

When individual liberty is ignored, our state has often gone off the rails. We wrote a prohibition on the sale of intoxicating liquor into our state constitution and spent years extending governmental authority to enforce the ban. The powers of police and prosecutors to control evil booze were repeatedly enlarged. When that failed, lawmakers made possession of liquor a crime. But more laws and bigger government proved futile. After 100 years we abandoned the lunacy.

In the early 20th century state lawmakers empowered state officials to sterilize residents of state institutions if those officials determined that society would benefit as a result. Lawmakers believed that the wisdom of state officials should prevail over self-determination. Hundreds of Kansas citizens were neutered — a tragedy for these individuals and a huge embarrassment to the state. This big government experiment was also halted. 

State lawmakers later decided to abandon economic freedom and place government in control of the state’s economy. A state agency was charged to intervene in labor-management disputes, and if necessary, settle those disputes with the force of law. No surprise, that flopped as well.

On various occasions lawmakers have mistrusted Kansans and tried other hairbrained schemes to restrict freedom. They once outlawed cigarettes and postcards thought to be indecent. They sought to suppress vice by regulating dance halls and censoring movies.

The Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that each individual woman should be in charge of her own health care, including the determination of whether to give birth or not. In doing so, the Court has embraced Kansans’ long-standing commitment to individual liberty and limited government. Kansas voters who trust women to make the right decisions should let the Court’s decision stand. 

About the writer: Ed Flentje is professor emeritus at Wichita State University and formerly served with Kansas Governors Robert F. Bennett and Mike Hayden.