A coalition of religious and community leaders has criticized Gov. Rick Perry’s sponsorship of a fundamentalist Christian prayer rally.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, joined the outcry against the Aug. 6 Perry event in Houston. Lynn reprimanded Perry for meddling in religion and failing to recognize America’s wide spiritual diversity.
“The problem with the rally isn’t just that it’s government-promoted religion,” Lynn said. “It’s actually government-supported evangelism. The aim of this event is to persuade people to adopt specific religious beliefs. That is never the government’s job. The sponsors will let non-Christians in precisely so they can learn about Jesus and be converted.”
Continued Lynn, “This rally also sends a message to everyone who does not accept this narrow form of Christianity. It tells those people that they are wrong. It says that there is a ‘right’ religion and the state has determined what it is. It celebrates a faith of exclusion when governments ought to be about inclusion. It erects barriers between people when states ought to tear them down. It divides us – when government’s job is to bring us together.”
Lynn also chastised Perry for aligning with extreme Religious Right groups. One of the rally’s primary sponsors, the American Family Association, is so vociferous in its attacks on gay people that it has been labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Lynn noted that others sponsors and endorsers of the Perry event, known as “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis,” include Pentecostal pastors affiliated with a movement called the New Apostolic Reformation. Members of this movement believe they have an obligation to take “dominion” over society and impose their version of biblical law. Some of the endorsers consider the Statue of Liberty to be a “demon idol,” while others regard TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey as a “forerunner” of the Antichrist.
“This is America,” Lynn said. “People can believe anything. But they should not receive backing from the government for these ideas. They can promote them through private means and personal resources but shouldn’t be seeking any stamp of government approval.”
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.