April 27, 2012 Print

Kansas Paper Publishes Personal Information of Petition Signers

by Karla Dial

Four towns in Kansas are considering adopting sweeping “nondiscrimination” ordinances that give preferential treatment to transgender and homosexual individuals — Hutchinson, Pittsburg, Salina and Wichita.

The Kansas Family Policy Council (KFPC) has been collecting petition signatures from people in those towns who feel adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to existing civil rights ordinances is a step that actually discriminates against churches. Many fear such laws trample  religious liberties and freedom of conscience, and that privacy and safety issues regarding gender-segregated facilities will be ignored.

On Monday, the group delivered 344 petition signatures to the Salina City Commission. Within hours, the local newspaper had a copy of the petition and had published on its website the names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of all the people who signed it.

“We think something inconsistent was done. It was treated differently than other comments on the issue,” KFPC Executive Director Robert Noland said. “If they’d asked us for permission to publish it, we probably would have said yes, but delete the personal information. It’s like the Prop. 8 issue out in California — we just don’t know what the purpose would have been.”

When a reporter from the Salina Journal asked Noland after the meeting what the petition was about, he discussed the issue with him — but said KFPC was not releasing the personal information of the people who signed it.

The reporter got that information from the city manager, and published the complete scanned document as a sidebar to his story on the meeting. Unredacted petitions delivered at a public meeting are public record — so no laws were broken in the transaction.

However, Noland questions whether it was improper.

“The city had other comments they had posted on their web page for and against the ordinance, and they took care to block out personal information of those people on their own pages,” Noland said.

Ben Wearing, executive editor of the paper, said the document was published because it was of interest to readers.

“We weren’t trying to prove anything by printing the petition,” he said.

And if a similar petition had been delivered in the same manner by gay activists, the Salina Journal would do exactly the same thing. “If they have their names on a petition and stood up at a public meeting, yeah,” he said. “And in fact, we have.”

Noland said the KFPC is working to let all the petition signers know about the situation.

“I don’t know that there’s any real danger, hut it should have been handled differently,” he said. “In the future, we may just redact certain things off those petitions before we turn them over ourselves.”

Learn more about the nondiscrimination ordinance pending in Salina.