Banding with the discriminatory American Family Association, advocates of the radical Seven Mountains Dominionism ideology, and a litany of anti-gay zealots and End Times preachers to put on his The Response prayer rally, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is orchestrating an event that rejects both non-Christians and Christians who don’t embrace the organizers’ far-right politics and religious fundamentalism.
Over fifty clergymen from the Houston area are questioning the appropriateness of Perry’s exclusionary prayer rally, which will be held in Houston’s Reliant Stadium this weekend, in a letter organized by the Anti-Defamation League:
One of Houston’s greatest strengths is its religious diversity. As part of the Anti-Defamation League’s Coalition for Mutual Respect, we are keenly sensitive to the fact that Houstonians may pray differently or not pray at all. We cherish the fact that we can pray freely in our own way, because our founding fathers wisely envisioned and provided for a nation grounded in the principle of separation of church and state. This freedom from government imposed religion allows all religions to flourish in our democratic society. It is with this thought in mind that we express our concern that Governor Rick Perry has called for a full day of exclusionary prayer on August 6, 2011. This religious event is not open to all faiths, as its statement of beliefs does not represent religious diversity.
Governor Perry has a constitutional duty to treat all Texans equally regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. His official involvement with the Response at minimum violates the spirit of that duty. By his actions, Governor Perry is expressing an official message of endorsement of one faith over all others; thereby sending an official message of religious exclusion and preference to all Texans who do not share that faith. We believe our religious freedom is threatened when a government official promotes religion, especially one religion over all others. We urge our elected leaders, who have the privilege of representing us, to practice their own religion as they choose without seeking to impose their beliefs on others or using their official offices to divide citizens along religious lines. They should be role models for all Americans, and can be by honoring and respecting our constitutional freedoms.
In June, the Houston Clergy Council released a statement decrying Perry for organizing the rally with the AFA and rebuffing “Houston’s vibrant and diverse religious landscape”:
We believe in a healthy boundary between church and state. Out of respect for the state, we believe that it should represent all citizens equally and without preference for religious or philosophical tradition. Out of respect for religious communities, we believe that they should foster faithful ways of living without favoring one political party over another. Keeping the church and state separate allows each to thrive and upholds our proud national tradition of empowering citizens to worship freely and vote conscientiously. We are concerned that our governor has crossed the line by organizing and leading a religious event rather than focusing on the people’s business in Austin.
We also express concern that the day of prayer and fasting at Reliant Stadium is not an inclusive event. As clergy leaders in the nation’s fourth largest city, we take pride in Houston’s vibrant and diverse religious landscape. Our religious communities include Bahais, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Unitarian Universalists, and many other faith traditions. Our city is also home to committed agnostics and atheists, with whom we share common cause as fellow Houstonians. Houston has long been known as a “live and let live” city, where all are respected and welcomed. It troubles us that the governor’s prayer event is not open to everyone. In the publicized materials, the governor has made it clear that only Christians of a particular kind are welcome to pray in a certain way. We feel that such an exclusive event does not reflect the rich tapestry of our city.
Our deepest concern, however, lies in the fact that funding for this event appears to come from the American Family Association, an organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The American Family Association and its leadership have a long track record of anti-gay speech and have actively worked to discriminate against the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. The American Family Association and its leadership have also been stridently anti-Muslim, going so far as to question the rights of Muslim Americans to freely organize and practice their faith. We believe it is inappropriate for our governor to organize a religious event funded by a group known for its discriminatory stances.
As religious leaders, we commit to join with all Houstonians in working to make our city a better place. We will lead our communities in prayer, meditation, and spiritual practice. We ask that Rick Perry leave the ministry to us and refocus his energy on the work of governing our state.