Today let’s talk about what’s not a crime.
In a country that was founded on freedom of religion, it is not a crime to pray.
It’s not a crime to publicly pray to the deity of your choice. It’s not a crime for someone who holds public office to pray. It’s not a crime to be a politician and also host a public prayer meeting.
But after a recent spate of indignant media coverage I wouldn’t blame you if you thought there was something wrong with Texas Governor Rick Perry’s participation in what was called “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis” held in Houston.
This column is not about politics or religion. It is about common sense and the right of every citizen in America to pray when and where they want without criticism. Yep, even politicians.
Governor Perry is a lifelong Christian. He’s never made a secret of that and in fact he’s long worn his religion on his sleeve for all to see. For example, back in April, he issued a gubernatorial proclamation calling for three days of prayer to end the drought that’s plagued Texas. He often gives a hearty “Amen” to the prayers of others while at public events.
There is absolutely nothing in the law that says he must keep his beliefs to himself.
The recent Houston prayer meeting Perry co-sponsored was not an exclusive event where Muslims, Hindus, Jews or Wiccans were unwelcome. Governor Perry had openly invited people of every faith to join him and thousands others in praying for our country during this time of economic and governmental turmoil.
“Father, our hearts break for America,” he said during his 13 minutes at the podium. “We see discord at home. We see fear in the marketplace. We see anger in the halls of government,” and he asked for divine forgiveness and guidance for the country. He prayed for President Obama and the men and women who serve in our military.
What’s wrong with that?
National media organizations first jumped on the rally controversy after a group called The Freedom From Religion Foundation – a self-proclaimed church-and-state watchdog organization – filed suit last month to try to stop the Governor from participating in the event. Their argument was that Perry’s involvement in a prayer rally would have been unconstitutional because it suggests the government prefers Christianity above all other religions. The lawsuit was dismissed.
The media then focused on other opposed to Perry’s plan to publicly pray. The Texas Republican was branded as politician using his status to ram his religion down the throats of others. Opponents cried that Perry used an official looking website and letterhead to invite people to the event. A letter with 10,000 signatures accusing Perry of using the religious rally to gain support for a presidential made headlines. And, Perry’s judgment was called into question when it was reported that the American Family Association was a co-sponsor. The organization has been called a hate group after an AFA official made derogatory statements about homosexuals and Muslims.
None of that, in my opinion, should strip any American of their right to pray when and where they choose. Now, if Perry had demanded all state employees attend the rally or drum up attendance for him I’d have a real problem with that. But that does not appear to be the case.
Governor Perry could become the Republican nominee for President and if his association with undesirable people or his public call to prayer causes some voters not to vote for him – well, that is a consequence he will have to live with. But let’s not swallow the idea that a man – by virtue of the occupation he holds – has somehow lost his constitutional right to pray in public because someone standing next to him said something ugly about a fellow citizen.
And one more thing: Don’t buy the argument that the real problem was a Separation of Church and State violation as many major media reports hammered.
First, the truth is that the Church and State Doctrine (as first written about by Thomas Jefferson) refers to Americans wanting their legislature to “make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” And second, the U.S. Constitution says right there in the First Amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
I don’t know about you but I don’t want a homogenized and pasteurized politician who aims to please everyone with politically correct dogma and doesn’t have a sense of awe about our place in the universe. I don’t want an office holder who doesn’t publicly express his/her most deeply held beliefs because I want to know the character of the person I might vote for.
If you ask me more politicians should pray for divine guidance to help straighten out the nation’s problems. Not much else seems to be working.