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Texas Governor Rick Perry's Bizarre, Fringe Mass Prayer Rally -- What Happened to No Gov Meddling in Religion?

Gov. Rick Perry’s call for a day-long event of prayer and fasting Aug. 6 at a sports stadium in Houston is a dramatic escalation of government meddling in religion.

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A rising AFA star is a cranky blogger named Bryan Fischer. In October of 2009, I sat in a crowded hotel ballroom in Washington, D.C., listening to Fischer tell a rapt audience at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit that Adolf Hitler invented church-state separation.

That rant was tame compared to some of Fischer’s other views. Since then, Fischer has gone on to assert that a killer whale that killed a trainer at Sea World should be stoned to death (because the Bible says so), opined that Native Americans deserved to lose control of the continent because they were Pagans and sexual deviants, called gay sex a form of “domestic terrorism,” advocated for the reintroduction of blasphemy laws in America, insisted that grizzly bear attacks on humans are a sign that “the land is under a curse” and helpfully pointed out that Muslims have no right to build mosques in this country because the First Amendment protects only Christians.

Most Americans do not accept these extreme views. It’s bad enough that Perry is using his government office to promote a prayer rally. It’s even worse that the one he is promoting excludes the majority of Americans. But worst of all is that he is partnering with the radical fringe of the Religious Right to bring it about.

Yet Perry is not only moving forward, he has invited the nation’s other 49 governors to endorse the fundamentalist event! (As of this writing, Govs. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana have said they will attend.)

Here’s the good news: Opponents are speaking out. The Texas Freedom Network, the Houston Clergy Council, the Secular Coalition for America and others have criticized the governor’s role in the rally. Kim Kamen, a Texas-based executive with the American Jewish Committee, cut to the heart of the matter when she told The Times , “There are many houses of worship here in Texas, not just Christian churches. As the leader of our state, we hope that he will bear that in mind.”

In mid June, more than 20 members of the clergy from the Houston area issued a joint letter blasting the Perry rally.

“We believe in a healthy boundary between church and state,” it read. “Out of respect for the state, we believe that it should represent all citizens equally and without preference for religious or philosophical tradition. Out of respect for religious communities, we believe that they should foster faithful ways of living without favoring one political party over another. Keeping the church and state separate allows each to thrive and upholds our proud national tradition of empowering citizens to worship freely and vote conscientiously.We are concerned that our governor has crossed the line by organizing a religious event rather than focusing on the people’s business in Austin.”

In addition, the Human Right Campaign, a gay rights organization, slammed Perry for “aligning with groups that, on a daily basis, seek to demonize” gays and lesbians.

There has been talk about a counter event. The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, released a video on YouTube knocking Perry’s prayer idea and calling for moderate and progressive religious and secular leaders to publicly oppose it.

Here’s hoping the momentum continues. Perry’s “fundamentalist-Christians- only” rally isn’t just a violation of separation of church and state, it’s also un-American. The government’s first duty is to treat all of its citizens equally, regardless of race, creed, gender and so on. A governor’s sponsorship of a rally that is truly welcoming to only certain types of Christians flies in the face of that standard.

 
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