No Amen From Us: Perry Prayer Rally Gets Judge’s Approval, But Not Ours

I’m heading to Houston, folks! I’ll be accompanying Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn as we join with the Texas ACLU and other progressive allies to put on a rally on the night before Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s fundamentalist Christian prayer fest.

Perry has teamed with the American Family Association (designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center) and is sponsoring “The Response,” a day of prayer and fasting at Reliant Stadium. They have made it clear that their Aug. 6 event reflects a “Christians only” ethos, and no other religious groups are invited to participate. Perry and the AFA seem to think fundamentalist Christians are the only ones who can and should pray for our country’s betterment.

In contrast, AU’s “Family, Faith and Freedom” celebration will include speakers from many different faith traditions as well as nonbelievers. (More details on the time and location of our event to come.) Lynn will be speaking on the importance of church-state separation, and why it’s problematic for Perry to be sending the message that only Christians of a specific variety are qualified to contribute to the public good.

This is a great chance for those disgusted by Perry’s actions to come out and say so. It’s open to the public. After all, it seems like this may be our only recourse. A federal district judge ruled yesterday that there is nothing any of us can do legally to stop Perry from supporting one religious belief over others.

Never mind what the Constitution says or what our Founding Fathers wanted, U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller said the Freedom from Religion Foundation can’t block the government-endorsed event in court. He ruled that the five plaintiffs in Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Perry have suffered no real injury and do not have “standing” (the right to sue) to stop Perry from meddling in religion in this fashion.

In other words, Judge Miller has slammed the door on church-state separationists as they seek to defend their constitutional rights.

How Judge Miller can claim that this hasn’t caused the citizens of Texas any injury is beyond me. Texas is a large and diverse state, and Perry is supposed to represent all the people that live there – including minorities.

By joining with the AFA, Perry has essentially endorsed this group and what it stands for. That means Perry is singling out certain Texans and making them feel unwelcome in their own state. He’s treating many Americans like second-class citizens and his actions have injured plenty.

This decision is certainly contrary to our Founding Fathers’ vision. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison thought governmental prayer proclamations were unwise and constitutionally dubious. As president, Jefferson flatly refused to issue them. Madison issued such proclamations under pressure from Congress during the War of 1812 but later said he wished he hadn’t. Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president, also refused to issue religious proclamations.

Yet Perry has taken it upon himself to do exactly what he was not elected to do, and it’s outrageous.

If you can, join us in Houston next Friday, and let’s send the governor a message.

P.S.: The “Family, Faith and Freedom” celebration will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. at Mount Ararat Baptist Church (5801 W. Montgomery Rd., Houston, Texas)  on Aug. 5, the evening before “The Response." Please keep checking www. au.org for more details.