Texas Gov. Rick Perry has called upon citizens and fellow lawmakers from across the country to come to Houston on Saturday, August 6 for ” a day of prayer and fasting on behalf of our troubled nation.”
The action caused a predictable firestorm of opprobrium, especially from state-church separation groups who suggest that public officials should not be telling Americans how and when to pray. There are concerns, too, that public money may find its way into this swill of politics and evangelical fervor; a spokeswoman for the governor, though, denied that any taxpayer money is being spent to stage the event which is slated for Reliant Stadium.
The governor told reporters that his “day of prayer and public fasting” is an “apolitical Christian prayer service” with the goal of asking God for “spiritual solutions to the many problems we face in our communities, states and nation.”
Is it coincidence that this prayer-fest endorses the agenda of the religious right, and specifically adopts the “statement of faith” of the American Family Association? Unlikely… the effect here is engineered to elevate the national visibility of Mr. Perry, and position him among a stable of other Bible-quoting Christian conservatives already out on the campaign trail. One thinks of Mitt Romney, Michelle Bachman,Tim Pawlenty and others who have been nuzzling up to Ralph Reed and his Faith and Values Coalition. Perry is simply the latest in playing the “religion card,” and coughing up boot spittle for evangelical conservative groups who have become the backbone of the Republican Party.
The great irony here, of course, is the juxtaposition of authoritarian Christian right politics with the label of conservatism. Traditional conservatives preach against what they perceive as the evils of “big government.” They sternly denounce the so-called “nanny state” where public bureaucrats and misguided do-gooders order us to wear safety belts, or avoid plastic bags and Big Macs, or engage in any number of behaviors not specifically delineated in the Constitution. They often defend the Second Amendment down to the last bullet, and rage against the totalitarian temptations of the Fourteenth Amendment with its doctrine of incorporation.
When it comes to “values” and religion, however, the traditional conservatives have been replaced by a wave of “religious conservatives” No government is too big for their purposes when establishing religious supremacy. The state had better not violate your right to own a .44 magnum hand gun or an M-16 — but when it comes to marrying a same sex person, or even engaging in gay sex (and forms of straight sex) outside the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, well, a different standard is required. The notion of individual rights is conveniently jettisoned for someone’s interpretation of a few lines of biblical verse.
Gov. Perry knows this, and he joins a sorry cadre of Republican hopefuls just lusting to move in to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and start legislating a new national mkorality. The first step in that unsavory process involves courting the likes of Ralph Reed and the American Family Association. And why not? Surveys indicate that the religious right gives more money and delivers more votes than any other segment of the American electorate.
God has always been a good running made for politicians in distress. Rick Perry knows that. So do other candidates who are squirming over the delicate issue of accepting or rejecting Perry’s invitation that they make the hajj to Houston for his “apolitical” rally.
None of this should please atheists, freethinkers and anyone else — be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, whatever — who embrace the intent of the First Amendment, and would shun the un-constitutional blending of religious piety, political chicanery and religious establishment. Joe Zamecki, the Texas State Director for American Atheists, will have none of this; he, and hopefully dozens, hundreds, even thousands of protestors will be there on Saturday, August 6, 2011 in a peaceful, public demonstration against Gov. Perry’s stunt. Mr. Zamecki’s statement in this is reproduced below. We hope you will join him in Houston.
Information from Joe Zamecki:
This is a peaceful demonstration to protest “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis,” an event initiated, endorsed, and promoted by Texas Governor Rick Perry and the American Family Association http://www.afa.net/ The prayer event is scheduled to take place at Reliant Stadium in Houston, TX …on August 6th 2011 from 10am-6pm with an early morning worship service starting at 8:30am. Please visit http://theresponseusa.com/ for more details of Perry’s event.
Currently, Atheists, Agnostics, Secular Humanists and others interested in protecting state/church separation are planning to set up our demonstration at the corner of Kirby Dr and McNee Rd, just north of the stadium, but if the turnout is more than expected we may need to position several groups throughout the area. We’ll be on the sidewalk all along the perimeter of Reliant Park. This is our free speech zone.
Anyone who values the separation of Church and State is welcome to join– non-theists, non-Christian, secular Christians. Please be aware that we are NOT trying to convert or mock anybody’s religion.
Exactly WHY are we picketing this prayer event? Good question! Here are FOUR reasons:
-- First, the event itself is being promoted by Gov. Perry in his official capacity as an elected official, starting at his official Gov’s website.
He’s also invited the governors from the other 49 states to come to this event, and take part. Obviously this will be a VERY government-related and promoted event. The promotion is already well underway.
-- Second, Gov. Perry has repeatedly and proudly violated church/state separation on several issues, all throughout his time as our governor. Recently he’s done this in the form of two religious proclamations, one asking Texans to pray for rain, and the other asking Americans to pray. He’s also worked tirelessly against public education, and it seems more than obvious that he’s doing all that work to benefit religion. Whenever a public school has to close or cut down on the number of enrolled students for some reason, private schools in the area get new customers. Most private schools are religious schools and most of them are run by mainstream religious denominations. If anyone is the winner in all of this education slashing, it’s Perry and Christianity in general.
-- Third, the prayer event is being put on by the American Family Association, which is considered to be a hate group, by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Lately the AFA has thrown out so much hate speech against gays and state/church separationists, that we’ve had enough, and we’re not going to take it anymore.
-- Fourth, I don’t believe that any of the other 49 states’ governors are as devoted to flaunting their disregard for the diversity in their respective states’ populations. This is while our state budget is in a mess, public education is underfunded, and our most popular politicians are riding on a wave of popularity, such that they can easily avoid any responsibility for explaining themselves and their actions to the public. So they don’t. On August 6, we will.
Yes we will have some Christians on our side, picketing the prayer event as well, because lots of Christians support state/church separation, and also understand that Gov. Perry is not a good governor for Texas.