If the lineup for “The Response,” the evangelical prayer rally which Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been enthusiastically touting, is enough to make you wonder what happened to separation of church and state, rest assured, you are not alone. A national organization dedicated to ensuring that religion is kept out of politics is suing Perry for his participation in the “Day of Prayer and Fasting,” saying that his connection to the event is unconstitutional.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) calls itself the country’s largest agnostic/atheist membership group. Its lawsuit claims that Perry’s actions violate the First Amendment’s “Establishment Clause,” which declares that the government may favor no one religion over another. It also asserts that the event makes nonbelievers into “political outsiders.”
The group is understandably disturbed by the people and organizations sponsoring the Perry event, who include the homophobic American Family Association, and a host of radical right-wing preachers. The AFA is perhaps best known for the thoughts of its director of issues analysis, Bryan Fischer, who opined last year in a piece about the repeal of DADT:
“Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews. Gays in the military is an experiment that has been tried and found disastrously and tragically wanting. Maybe it’s time for Congress to learn a lesson from history.”
The roster also includes right-wing radicals like San Antonio pastor John Hagee, who has repeatedly declared that the Catholic Church is the “whore of Babylon,” and Cindy Jacobs, a preacher who likes to link natural disasters to God’s wrath at America for accepting homosexuality.
The event’s organizers have been unabashed in expressing their hopes that people will find Christianity by attending the prayer summit. Certainly, the assumption behind the event is that the United States is a Christian nation, and that our problems can be solved by praying to a Christian God. However, even other Christians seem skeptical of the endeavor.
“I regret that Gov. Perry has too often used religion to divide us rather than to bring us together,” said Larry Bethune, an Austin-based Baptist minister.
It’s undeniable that Perry has been advocating for the event, from the video posted on its website’s homepage to the invitation that he sent out to the 49 other governors, asking them to join him at the rally in Houston on August 6. In the lawsuit, the FFRF alleges that Perry’s actions give “official recognition” to a “devotional event, endorse religion, have no secular rationale, and seek to encourage citizens to pray and non-Christians to convert to Christianity.”
Perry seems undeterred, both by the criticism and the lawsuit. A spokesperson for his office said that he is still planning to attend. ”He believes it will serve as an important opportunity for Americans to gather together and pray to God,” said Catherine Frazier, Perry’s deputy press secretary. “The pending litigation does not affect plans for the prayer event to move forward as planned.” For a man who openly admitted that he sees the governor’s office as a “pulpit,” this isn’t a surprise, but it should be yet another wake-up call.
The fact that a U.S. governor was so actively promoting a single religion’s event was disturbing from the beginning, but it has gotten more and more out of hand as extremist pastors signed on to sponsor and speak. It’s one thing for a legislator to be open about his or her faith, but quite another to openly back a radical evangelical prayer event as the answer to America’s political crises. It’s offensive to non-believers, but also to people of different faiths, other Christians, and all the people who are affected by the hatred that emerges from many of these pastors’ mouths. What will it take for Perry to realize that backing such an event is unacceptable? And are we really still talking about this man as a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination?
Photo from Gage Skidmore via flickr.