Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has called for a public day of prayer
and fasting, prompting criticism from First Amendment watchdog
groups, atheists, and the Houston Clergy Council.
The American debate over the mixing of politics and religion is
swirling in Texas.
Gov. Rick Perry's call for Americans to gather in Houston's
Reliant Stadium for a day of public prayer and fasting on Aug. 6 has
drawn the ire of atheist groups and concerns from interfaith church
leaders as well.
Titled "The Response," the event is intended to bring together
people to address the nation's "state of crisis" through Christian
prayer. The website (theresponseusa.com) features a one-minute video
invitation from Governor Perry, in which he says in part, "I'm all
too aware of government's limitations when it comes to fixing things
that are spiritual in nature. That's where prayer comes in, and we
need it more than ever."
But opponents say what's needed is a clearer line between
government and religion.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a Madison, Wisc.,
group concerned with the separation of church and state, filed a
lawsuit July 13 in the Southern District Court of Texas, located in
Houston. It seeks to restrain Perry from being involved in the
prayer event and to declare his endorsement of it unconstitutional.
The governor's actions violate the establishment clause of the
First Amendment, the group says, because it "gives the appearance
that the government prefers evangelical Christian religious beliefs
over other religious beliefs and non-beliefs," says a press release
American politicians historically called for prayer days for the
nation without much controversy, but in more recent decades, "rather
than uniting, many critics see them as highly politicized and highly
partisan," says Marie Griffith, director of the John C. Danforth
Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St.
Louis. Conflicting court decisions are on the books, she notes.
"We're still hashing these things out ... and this kind of case
brings all this to the fore and forces us to define more carefully
what 'establishment' means and what 'religion' means."
The lawsuit also raises concerns that the governor has been
working with the American Family Association (AFA), which "promotes
a rabid evangelical Christian agenda," the FFRF statement says.
Another group calls the event a diversion from problems the
governor should be focused on solving.
"Gov. Perry obviously has no idea how to fix the state's budget
crisis, and instead of fixing it, he is literally using religion as
a smokescreen," says David Silverman, president of American
Atheists, Inc. …