Friday, June 17, 2011

Perry's 'Day of Prayer' Violates Church-State Separation, Houston Clergy Say

Twenty-five Houston clergy said in a column in the Houston Chronicle today that Gov. Rick Perry's planned day of prayer at Reliant Stadium on August 6th--to which only Christians whom Perry approves of are invited--violates the separation of church and state. Their column follows. The signatories may be found at the posting on the Chronicle's website.

As Houston clergy, we write to express our deep concern over Gov. Rick Perry's proclamation of a day of prayer and fasting at Houston's Reliant Stadium on Aug. 6. In our role as faith leaders, we encourage and support prayer, meditation and spiritual practice. Yet our governor's religious event gives us pause for a number of reasons.

We believe in a healthy boundary between church and state. Out of respect for the state, we believe that it should represent all citizens equally and without preference for religious or philosophical tradition. Out of respect for religious communities, we believe that they should foster faithful ways of living without favoring one political party over another. Keeping the church and state separate allows each to thrive and upholds our proud national tradition of empowering citizens to worship freely and vote conscientiously. We are concerned that our governor has crossed the line by organizing a religious event rather than focusing on the people's business in Austin.

We also express concern that the day of prayer and fasting at Reliant Stadium is not an inclusive event. As clergy leaders in the nation's fourth-largest city, we take pride in Houston's vibrant and diverse religious landscape. Our religious communities include Bahais, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Unitarian Universalists and many other faith traditions. Our city is also home to committed agnostics and atheists, with whom we share common cause as fellow Houstonians. Houston has long been known as a live-and-let-live city where all are respected and welcomed. It troubles us that the governor's prayer event is not open to everyone. In the publicized materials, the governor has made it clear that only Christians of a particular kind are welcome to pray in a certain way. We feel that such an exclusive event does not reflect the rich tapestry of our city. Our deepest concern, however, lies in the fact that funding for this event appears to come from the American Family Association, an organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The American Family Association and its leadership have a long track record of anti-gay speech and have actively worked to discriminate against the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. The American Family Association and its leadership have also been stridently anti-Muslim, going so far as to question the rights of Muslim-Americans to freely organize and practice their faith. We believe it is inappropriate for our governor to organize a religious event funded by a group known for its discriminatory stances.

As religious leaders, we commit to join with all Houstonians in working to make our city a better place. We will lead our communities in prayer, meditation and spiritual practice. We ask that Gov. Perry leave the ministry to us and refocus his energy on the work of governing our state.

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