Kan. school board hopeful attends anti-gay church

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Westboro Baptist Church sign

TOPEKA (AP) -- A Kansas state school board candidate who describes evolution as "Satanic lies" and wants to stop public schools from teaching the theory attends Westboro Baptist, the Topeka church known for anti-gay protests worldwide.

Jack Wu told the Topeka Capital-Journal he decided to run for the State Board of Education after learning Democratic incumbent Carolyn Campbell, also from Topeka, otherwise would be unopposed for a second term in the 4th District of eastern Kansas. Campbell supports the state's current science standards, which treat evolution as a well-established, core scientific concept.

Wu's link to the Rev. Fred Phelps Sr.'s congregation has created a buzz in education circles. On a campaign website, Wu said he is a native of California drawn to the Kansas capital "after seeing the light of the Westboro Baptist Church." Church members have staged anti-gay pickets for more than two decades, and they frequently protest outside military funerals.

Wu said he attends Westboro Baptist services and adheres to its teachings but isn't a full, baptized member. He said his attraction to the church is unrelated to his efforts to unseat Campbell.

"She's going to win my district without a fight?" he said. "I'm not going to let that happen."

Campbell, who's seeking her second, four-year term on the board, served 12 years on Topeka's school board.

Campbell declined to discuss Wu's affiliation with Westboro Baptist but said she is a Christian who believes "our children should have a well-rounded education on evolution."

The state board is expected to consider new science standards early next year. Kansas is among 26 states working with the National Research Council to draft guidelines for use by multiple states. A draft released in May reflected mainstream scientific views evolution is supported by extensive evidence and crucial for a student's understanding of science.

The state had five sets of science standards from 1999 to 2007, alternating between evolution-friendly guidelines and ones backed by evolution skeptics as conservative Republicans gained and then lost state board majorities. The back-and-forth brought Kansas international attention and some ridicule, before the latest evolution-friendly standards were adopted five years ago. State law requires standards to be reviewed at least every seven years.

"I don't want our children when they leave to go off to a university to be behind and not have all the knowledge they should have," Campbell told the Capital-Journal.

Wu ran for a Kansas House seat as a Republican in a Topeka district in 2010 and garnered approximately 20 percent of the vote. Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said no one in the party had heard from him again until he filed to run earlier this month.

"He has not and does not have any connection or been in contact with the Kansas Republican Party, other than filing as a Republican -- something the party has no control over," Barker said.

Wu said he isn't bothered by Barker's comments.

"It seems kind of like they want to distance themselves from me," Wu said. "That's fine. I don't believe the party gets to decide who is and isn't a Republican."

Wu, who has a degree in computer science and works in computer repair, said he doesn't have any children, but his views on education were shaped by his experiences in both public and private schools.

Wu said he is a biblical literalist who believes the Earth is approximately 6,000 years old, rejecting science based on the geologic record. He said he wants to put a Bible in every classroom.

On his website, Wu said at Westboro Baptist, "he found people that loved and served the Lord their God sincerely."

Church spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper said Wu is an "acquaintance," and described him as "just a friendly little guy," though not a church member.

Another church member, Rachel Hockenbarger, said it isn't unusual to spot Wu at services.

"He attends church on a somewhat regular basis," Hockenbarger said. "You don't have to be a member to attend. You just have to behave yourself."


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