It’s not just the 98-degree forecast heating things up in Houston. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has just cranked up the volume of its federal lawsuit against Texas Gov. Rick Perry by asking a federal judge to bar Perry from continuing to promote an Aug. 6 prayer rally at Reliant Stadium and to rescind his prayer proclamation.
The national state/church watchdog late yesterday filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller to order Perry to stop allowing use of his name, recordings and invitations to promote the prayer rally. FFRF is asking that Perry be barred from participating “in his official capacity as governor as a speaker at the event,” and to rescind his proclamation calling Aug. 6 a “day of prayer and fasting for our nation’s responses.”
Judge Gray has already scheduled oral arguments over the request for noon Thursday, and asked for the state's response by noon Wednesday.
FFRF, which filed suit earlier this month, is now asking the court to direct Perry “to take affirmative steps to disassociate himself from promoting, sponsoring and endorsing the scheduled prayer rally.” FFRF doesn’t seek to stop Perry from attending the rally privately.
The Madison, Wis.-based association, which, with more than 16,600 members is the largest national atheist/agnostic membership group, said Perry’s actions “constitute an extraordinary disregard of the Establishment Clause.” Perry “preferentially lends the prestige and credibility of the Governor’s office to promote a particular religious viewpoint,” which is “highly divisive, offensive and damaging to the plaintiffs.”
“It’s very simple,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “A state is not a church. Government must not take sides over religious matters. The gubernatorial office, contrary to Gov. Perry’s ambitions, is not a ministerial pulpit. He was elected governor, not pastor-in-chief.”
“Rick Perry,” she added, “in his official capacity as governor is the instigator, chief inviter, voice, face and host of his day-long, nationally publicized, pervasively sectarian evangelical Christian prayer service. It is Perry’s gubernatorial title, his video and letter invitations that greet everyone at the prayer event website. His robocalls are now going into Texan homes to inveigle citizens to attend his Christian prayer event and to exhort a day of prayer. Perry’s unprecedented proselytizing actions brazenly cross the line between government and religion.”
Among the exhibits filed by FFRF is a transcript of an interview of Perry by Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association, which is working “hand-in-glove” with Perry to put on the event.
Perry says: “It’s awesome to be on your program, and I can’t wait till the sixth of August rolls around and we can fill up Reliant Stadium with people who are Christ-loving. . . . I know my limitations, and let me tell you I want God helping me, guiding me, giving me direction. And um, that’s the reason that we’ve brought together these Christian leaders of all races, all ages, all Christian denominations. This is a very diverse group.”
Perry describes the lofty goals of the scheduled prayer rally: “I hope there are literally hundreds of thousands if not millions of people across this country that will that day go into a spiritual, truthful fasting and praying mode, lifting up this country. And you know just ask for God’s will to be done. I mean, that’s simply what we’ve asking people to do, nothing more, nothing less.”
He told business leaders on another occasion that “It’s going to be the real deal . . . . It’s going to be people standing on that stage, projecting and proclaiming Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior at Reliant Stadium in Houston.”
In an affidavit by Kay Staley, one of five local FFRF members who are plaintiffs, she notes: “I feel excluded and demeaned by the Governor’s promotion of this Christian prayer rally. Persons who are not believers in the Governor’s God are made to feel like second-class citizens.”
Plaintiff Scott Weitzenhoffer’s affidavit notes that he heard one of the governor’s unsolicited robocalls in which Perry personally invited and urged him to join him with praying Christians at the prayer rally at Reliant Stadium.
Says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker: “It’s time for Gov. Perry to get off his knees and get to work, instead of beseeching a mythical deity to do his job for him. He has no right, as Texas’ highest elected official, to direct citizens to pray, to set aside an entire day for prayer, much less to tell us to fill a stadium in order to fast and pray to his god.”
Motion for Preliminary Injunction
Plaintiffs' Brief in Support of Preliminary Injunction
Declaration of Annie Laurie Gaylor
Declaration of Kay Staley
Declaration of Scott Weitzenhoffer
Perry Order Setting Hearing on Motion