The Freedom From Religion Foundation fought Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s unconstitutional sponsorship of a Christian evangelical prayer rally both in court and in person at Perry’s Aug. 6 prayer rally at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
FFRF, a state/church watchdog with more than 16,600 members nationwide, filed suit July 13 on behalf of its 700 Texas members. Making the lawsuit possible were local plaintiffs Kay Staley, Scott Weitzenhoffer, Wilfred Lyon, Stacie Gonzalez and Kristin Ames.
FFRF’s federal lawsuit landed in the courtroom of Judge Gray Miller, a recent conservative Bush appointee. On July 28, Miller dismissed the lawsuit and request for a restraining order, ruling that the plaintiffs lacked standing.
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, who attended the hearing in Houston, commented: “Nobody would have trouble seeing the injury if a governor aligned himself with a radical Muslim group and used his office to call all citizens to a daylong prayer to Allah rally. This event is no different.”
Perry’s actions as governor gave official recognition to a devotional event, endorsed religion, had no secular rationale and encouraged citizens to pray and non-Christians to convert to Christianity.
Foiled in court, FFRF responded by protesting at the event. Every billboard company in the area refused to lease a billboard to FFRF for a message critical of Perry’s involvement. So FFRF negotiated for a mobile billboard to circulate at the stadium all day with the message, “Beware Prayer by Pious Politicians — Get Off Your Knees and Get to Work!” It also commissioned an aerial banner (see photo at top), saying: “GOV – KEEP STATE/ CHURCH SEPARATE. FFRF. ORG.”
Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Gaylor, along with FFRF legal intern Taylor Myers, flew from Madison, Wis., to join other FFRF’ers and protesters at the event, picketing all day in 107-degree heat index.
The rally’s website called Perry the “initiator” of the prayer and fasting event. The governor’s staff admitted in an affidavit that much of Perry’s support for the event was in his official capacity as governor. The suit alleged Perry’s actions sent an impermissible “message that believers in religion are political insiders, and nonbelievers are political outsiders.”
FFRF asked for an order to restrain Perry from continuing to serve as the face of “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis.” Both an official letter of invitation signed “Rick Perry, Governor of Texas,” and an official videotape featuring Perry as governor greeted visitors to The Response website, in which he invited the nation to join him on Aug. 6 to turn to Jesus and ask for God’s forgiveness. His invitation invited “fellow Americans” to join him and other “praying people,” in “asking God’s forgiveness, wisdom and provision for our state and nation. There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.”
FFRF further asked the judge to force Perry to remove links to the rally from his official gubernatorial website and to rescind his prayer proclamation calling Aug. 6 a “Day of Prayer and Fasting for our Nation’s Challenges.” FFRF further requested that Perry be enjoined from reading or presenting his proclamation at the event and to attend only as a private citizen and not in his capacity as governor.
In an obvious concession, Perry did not present or read his proclamation at the rally, where he was introduced as a speaker, nor did the caption under his name identify him as “governor.” Perry fervently prayed, reading both Old and New Testament verses to some 30,000 weeping, wailing, praying and flaying evangelical Christian attendees.
Perry worked “hand in glove” with the American Family Association to de¬clare, host and promote the prayer rally, FFRF contended. FFRF noted AFA “promotes a rabid evangelical Christian agenda that is hostile to nonbeliev¬ers, non-Christians and other protected groups, such as gays and lesbians.” Perry had called on members of Congress to attend and sent invitations to all governors. Only one accepted — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. Florida Gov. Rick Scott sent his “copycat” blessings on video.
FFRF has 90 days to decide whether to appeal its dismissal on standing to the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.