Texas Governor Rick Perry, perhaps preparing a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, chose an interesting way to distinguish himself from the field this week. He decided to reach out to the American Family Association (AFA), which has been labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, to host a prayer event focused on “the Lord Jesus Christ,” and then invited his 49 fellow governors to attend. The specific "statement of faith” for this theocratic event includes belief in the literal truth of the virgin birth and resurrection. That edict would make Thomas Jefferson, a one-time governor of Virginia, unwelcome.
As the Texas Tribune and others have noted, the American Family Association is an extremist organization with a long history of intolerant, fundamentalist and hate-filled religious rhetoric. Here are just a few examples:
- AFA’s Bryan Fischer “has blamed gays for the Holocaust, […] called on Muslims to convert to Christianity or face the wrath of U.S. military power” and asserted that church-state separation “came directly from the mind of Adolf Hitler.”
- AFA objected to a Hindu clergyman giving the opening prayer for the U.S. Senate, and several of its supporters tried to disrupt the ceremony.
- AFA has demanded that every member of Congress be sworn in on the Bible, thus specifically excluding secular Americans and people of other religions such as Hindus or Muslims.
- Most recently, AFA called for a boycott of Home Depot because the store supports “homosexual activism.”
This is the organization Perry, a U.S. governor, chose to partner with for his “apolitical Christian prayer meeting,” the website of which clearly states that millions of non-Christian Americans are doomed to “damnation.”
Earlier this week, SCA issued an action alert calling on our nation’s governors to reject Perry’s invitation and focus on substantive policy work -- not grandstanding ceremonies sponsored by hate groups. (If you go to SCA’s issues page you will see that our focus is substantive policy, not political grandstanding.)
As of this blog post, the governors of California, Oklahoma, Michigan, New Jersey, and Georgia have turned down Perry’s invite. If you have not contacted your governor about this yet, please do so here.
Gov. Perry’s actions are sadly characteristic. After the BP oil spill, Gov. Perry’s first reaction was not to investigate safety violations or to take responsibility for the consequences of lax policies. Instead, he said that the spill might have been “just an act of God,” thus absolving real corporate and government decision-makers from real world responsibility for their own actions leading up to a major disaster.
In a country that faces, in Perry’s words, “financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters,” the last thing our elected officials should is pander to extremist hate groups that are expressly hostile to millions of non-fundamentalist Americans. It is a red flag when the likes of Thomas Jefferson would not be welcome at an event, an event hosted by a hate group hostile to all by but the most fundamentalist of Christians.
Governor Perry has succeeded in clearly defining himself. He believes the way to the Republican nomination is through radical theocratic extremism. For the future of our republic, founded on separation of church and state, let’s hope he’s wrong.