Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
Gov. Rick Perry’s long-running political show is picking up steam as he heads toward an announcement that he will seek the Republican presidential nomination, not because he wants the job, but because he has been called by God to seek the post. His latest move in that direction–also stimulated by his familiarity with the Almighty–is his promotion of Evangelical Christianity through a proclaimed Christian prayer event scheduled for August 6 at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
To be clear, Rick Perry, like all of us, has the same constitutional right to practice whatever religion and engage in whatever religious practices he chooses. What he should not be allowed to do is use his public office to promote his religion and his religious practices. But this is what he is doing with the August 6 event.
Gov. Perry issued an official governor’s proclamation that includes the State Seal of the State of Texas. The proclamation includes some historical references that appear to be intended to justify his official action as governor in calling for a religious observance and practice on August 6, including “A Day of Prayer and Fasting for Our Nation.” Gov. Perry exhorts the people to have a “sacred assembly” which has been “consecrated.” There is specific reference to follow the example of Jesus to pray “publicly for the benefit of others” as a way to “express our faith.” This part of the proclamation refers to a bible verse (John 11:41-42) that is taken completely out of context to serve the governor’s purposes, and ignores Matthew 6:6, which provides, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
The proclamation urges “the appropriate recognition” of the Day of Prayer and Fasting by the citizens of Texas. It is attested to by the governor’s official signature indicating that he is acting in his capacity as the Governor of Texas.
In a public letter bearing the State of Texas Official Seal, Gov. Perry urges people to join in this religious event. The letter states that “as a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy,” turning the event into a clearly sectarian activity promoting Christianity (a practice eschewed by James Madison when he served as president of the country).
The August 6 religious event is promoted further on Gov. Perry’s official governor’s website, which links to another website set up in collaboration with the governor by the American Family Association at “TheResponseUSA.com.” That website makes clear the sectarian nature of the religious event: “Who knows what can happen in our generation when we gather together to worship Jesus, fast and pray, and believe for great change in our nation?”
Beginning around July 20, Gov. Perry initiated robocalls about the evangelical religious gathering to people in the Houston area. The robocalls were a recording of his voice with the following message:
“This is Governor Rick Perry and I’m inviting you to join your fellow Americans in a day of prayer and fasting on behalf of our nation. As an elected leader, I am all too aware of government’s limitations when it comes to fixin’ things that are spiritual in nature. That’s where prayer comes in, and we need it more than ever. With the economy in trouble, communities in crisis and people adrift in a sea of moral relativism, we need God’s help. That’s why I’m calling on Americans to pray and fast like Jesus did, and as God called the Israelites to do in the Book of Joel. I sincerely hope you will join me in Houston on August the sixth and take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God’s forgiveness, his wisdom and provision for our state and nation. To learn more, visit TheResponseUSA.com, then make plans to be part of something even bigger than Texas.”
All of these actions make clear that Perry is acting in his capacity as the Governor of Texas, not a private citizen.
The Response website makes even clearer the Christian nature of the event called for by Gov. Perry. The website recites “What the Response Believes”:
1. We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative word of God.
2. We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
3. We believe in the deity of Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through
His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
4. We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
5. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a Godly life.
6. We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; that they are saved unto the resurrection of life and that they are lost unto the
resurrection of damnation.
7. We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Response website displays the Official Seal of the State of Texas and includes other evidence that the governor is using his official status as the Governor of the State of Texas to promote and sponsor the religious event. If anything more is needed to convey the sectarian nature of the prayer rally, it can be found in the words of the spokesman for the rally, Eric Bearse, Governor Perry’s former Communications Director, who said that the rally is intended to convey “the love, grace and warmth of Jesus Christ in that assembly hall, in that arena. And that’s what we want to convey, that there’s acceptance and that there’s love and that there’s hope if people will seek out the living Christ.”
Take that you Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, atheists, Taoists, agnostics, Unitarians, Sikhs, Jains, Pastafarians, and all you other non-Christians, as well as a few Christians who do not follow the same evangelical dogmatism he is promoting. Gov. Perry is interested only in his kind of Christians, or those who seek out Jesus Christ in the way he approves.
If ever there was a case of a government official showing preference for a particular religion, and religion over non-religion, this prayer rally is it. According to the US Supreme Court, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits such actions by government officials in their official capacities. After all, prayer is, as stated in a federal lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) challenging the event, “an inherently and quintessentially religious activity, which is the intended point of Governor Perry’s prayer rally.”
The FFRF lawsuit further makes the case against Gov. Perry’s unconstitutional action: “Governor Perry’s initiation of a Christian prayer rally at Reliant Stadium on August 6, 2011, is intended to and does have the effect of giving official recognition to the endorsement of religion; the event has no secular rationale; the purpose of the prayer rally is to encourage individual citizens to pray; persons who are not already Christian, moreover, will be fair game for conversion.”
Our founders were concerned about just this sort of mixing of religion with the affairs of state. The founders were so concerned that religion not become a divisive force in our government that they included a provision in the Constitution that no religious test could ever be required of those holding public office. For those who aren’t aware of it, the US Constitution is applicable to the states and to state officials.
In recent years some candidates for public office believe that their first requirement for office is to declare their strong religious convictions, as though that will lead the voters to believe that they have a personal link to God that assures their fitness for holding office. All Gov. Perry’s promotion of evangelical Christianity shows is that he is a panderer to the religious right, and cares not one whit about the separation of church and state intended by the author of that constitutional provision, James Madison, who believed that an “alliance or coalition between Government and Religion” was detrimental to both. President Madison was willing to sign a “day of prayer” proclamation urged by others, considering it a de minimus act, but he believed it a violation of the intent of the First Amendment to organize, promote, and sponsor such events in his official capacity.
Madison believed that mutual support between government and religion was a grievous error: “Such, indeed, is the tendency to such a coalition (between government and religion), and such its corrupting influence on both the parties, that the danger cannot be too carefully guarded against. … Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.”
Rick Perry should be free to pray and fast every day of his life if he chooses, and do those things with whomever he wishes, including on August 6 in Reliant Stadium in Houston. But Gov. Rick Perry has no business using his elected office to promote, organize, and sponsor such religious practices, especially when those practices are rabidly sectarian.
© Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San MarcosEmail | Print