Rick Perry, the republican governor of Texas, has recently called for a 'day of prayer' at Reliant Stadium in Texas on August 6, 2001 in which everyone, including specifically other United States governors, is invited. This comes on the radar after he has urged his constituents to pray for rain to dowse wildfires, but that didn't work because he soon asked the federal government for money after he previously didn't want the federal government to 'oppress Texas'. While the federal national day of prayer is very problematic for various reasons which overlap this issue, Perry's action is even worse. Perry has called for governors from every state in the United States to attend this event in order to pray for our nation. The website for Perry's event states,
Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. 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.
It cannot be more obvious - this is an event for Christians that is very exclusionary and should not be an event that is organized and endorsed by a governor. If an independent religious group wanted to do this, great, but the government and government officials should not be in the business of asking people to pray. Government officials should leave individuals to decide whether or not they should pray, be religious, or participate in any religious event.
An event like this that is supposed to 'bring the nation together' is doing the exact opposite; this event is very divisive. Instead of, for example, encouraging Americans to meet at Reliant stadium and affirm an ethics pledge or something else, Perry wants people to "call upon Jesus" and "thank Him for the blessings of freedom." What about religious persons who don't believe Jesus is the son of God? What about non-religious people? What about Buddhists? What about persons who believe in many gods...?
Texas Freedom Network, an activist group from (you guessed it) Texas, has noted further problems with the event. Perry has asked the American Family Network, a group classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of its anti-gay stances such as blaming homosexuality for the Holocaust, its ridiculous comments about black women who "rut like rabbits," and much more.
For some reason, media sources have been almost silent on this issue and some have only been critiquing Perry for his alliance with the American Family Network. While the ties with the AFN are very problematic, let's not overlook the problems with a governor calling people to pray to Jesus.
Imagine if a governor asked people to pray to Allah and issued the following statement, "Right now, America is in crisis. We face problems with the economy and terrorism. The unemployment rate is very high and people are having a very difficult time finding decent work. As a nation, we must come together and pray to Allah and his prophet Mohammed and ask them to help us with our struggles." Fox News Network and presumably every other media source would be outraged and people would call for this governor to resign. Why then, when the name of the gos is changed, should Christianity and Perry get a free pass?
Many may think America is a 'Christian Nation,' but the only truth to this is that by a plurality, people identify as being Christians. We are supposed to be a nation in which people have freedom of religion and the government is neutral in matters of religion. The government should not favor any religion over another religion, favor religion over non-religion, or favor non-religion over religion. This is a protection for everyone including the popular religion in any given area that should make sure that one group is favored over another and others are excluded.
Governors across the United States should reject Perry's invitation and proclaim that they should be serving all constituents equally instead of supporting an event in which Jesus is being petitioned. Perry's should be ashamed of issuing this 'day of prayer.' Instead of acting like an evangelical Christian pastor inside a church, Perry should act like an elected official.
The Secular Coalition For America has the following to say about Perry's event,
Perry’s evangelical and theocratic grandstanding does nothing to offer actual solutions to our country’s problems but rather urges other governors to take the same hands-off approach to governing and problem-solving. Perry states, “There is hope for America, and we will find it on our knees … [a]s a nation, we must come together, and call upon Jesus to guide us.” The Secular Coalition for America believes there is hope for America, but this hope is rooted in science, reason, and critical thinking. A government official should not be pushing any religion on his constituency or our elected leaders.
The Secular Coalition for America believes that calling on all Americans to embrace Perry’s personal belief system is an insult to the millions of secular Americans who contribute to society, as well as millions of upstanding citizens who practice religions other than evangelical Christianity. The statement of faith for the event, taken from the American Family Association, states, in part, “We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential” and that non-Christians “are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.”
The Texas Freedom Network offers the following letter that you can and should send to Perry,
Dear Gov. Perry:
I am deeply troubled that you are using your office as governor of the state of Texas to promote an event this summer that, instead of uniting people of faith in prayer for our nation, will actually sharpen divisions among Americans along religious and political lines. In particular, partnering with the American Family Association (AFA) to organize "The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis" is insulting to many in this state. That organization’s history of intolerant rhetoric and divisive political positions is so extreme that the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified the AFA as a hate group.
I believe it is wrong for the Governor's Office to pick and choose which faiths will be favored at a public event. Therefore, I call on you to make this gathering open to speakers and attendees of all faiths, as well as welcoming to people of good will who are not affiliated with a faith tradition.
Moreover, I call on you to demonstrate your commitment to religious tolerance by ending the association between your office and the American Family Association.
The Office of Governor should represent ALL Texans and promote a culture of mutual respect for all of our state's diverse religious traditions.