Senate should carefully assess Rick Perry

This is an FFRF billboard caricature of Rick Perry at the time of its lawsuit against him

The Senate needs to carefully assess Energy Secretary nominee Rick Perry’s qualifications for the job.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has serious doubts about his fitness for the post. So, FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor are sending a list of pointed questions to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to enable us all to have a better understanding of Perry’s positions.

In 2011, Perry designated as governor of Texas a three-day period, from Good Friday through Easter, to beseech Texas citizens to pray for an end to drought. He further used his office the same year to organize and promote a massive Christian prayer rally, “Day of Prayer and Fasting for our Nation’s Challenges,” over which FFRF sued. To promote the religious event, he sent letters to citizens in his official capacity and taped robocalls. He even recorded a videotaped invitation placed at the official gubernatorial website urging all Americans to turn to Jesus and ask for God’s forgiveness. 

Texas subsequently saw “unprecedented” wildfires, “some of the largest, most destructive blazes in its history” consuming 4 million acres, more than double the previous record. The drought worsened, costing the state economy many billions of dollars in damages and lost crops. The first major rain in the state of Texas came nearly half a year after his proclamation for prayer.

Does Perry still consider prayer an appropriate response for national emergencies? For instance, in the event of a nuclear incident at one of our reactors while he is secretary, would his first response be public prayer? Does he continue to believe it is appropriate to promote his personal religion using his public office and will he do so as secretary?

Perry has repeatedly said that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax perpetrated by greedy scientists and has also hinted he believes it can be solved through prayer. How can the Senate responsibly confirm a climate change denier to become Energy Secretary?

Perry has also stated unequivocally that he rejects evolution. His denial of anthropogenic climate change and evolution are two symptoms of what can only be described as a disdain for science. How can he do his job if he lacks even the most basic understanding of and respect for science?

As governor, Perry called on the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse its decisions on prayers promoted, organized, and imposed by public schools. On at least one occasion, he even attended a mandatory assembly at a public school during which a local preacher prayed “in Jesus’ name.” The law is clear and settled: Imposing prayer on public school students is a violation of personal conscience and is unconstitutional, yet he did it anyway. If there were a conflict between the law and religion, could Perry commit to upholding the law?

Perry’s belief in evangelical Christianity seems to influence every aspect of his work. The U.S. Constitution prohibits religious tests for public office in Article 6. Would he honor that aspect of the Constitution in all his staffing choices at the Department of Energy, including the possibility of hiring nonbelievers or LGBTQ workers?

If the Senate can elicit informative answers to these questions, the American people will better understand whether Perry is qualified to be in command of an important aspect of our lives.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit organization representing more than 26,000 members across the country, including members in every state. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between religion and government, and to educate the public about nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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