ACLU demands Rick Perry disclose public resources used for Christian prayer event
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas has filed open records requests asking Governor Rick Perry and other officials to disclose the amount of government resources being used to promote a planned evangelical Christian prayer rally in Houston.
“We are concerned that Gov. Perry is using public office to endorse a sectarian religious event and to advance specific Christian beliefs,” said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director of the ACLU of Texas. “We are seeking information on the degree to which state resources have been or will be used for the planning and promotion of this event and for state officials’ participation in it.”
Perry proclaimed August 6 as a “Day of Prayer and Fasting for our Nation to seek God’s guidance” and invited governors from across the nation to join his Christian prayer summit at Reliant Stadium.
“Given the trials that beset our nation and world, from the global economic downturn to natural disasters, the lingering danger of terrorism and continued debasement of our culture, I believe it is time to convene the leaders from each of our United States in a day of prayer and fasting, like that described in the book of Joel,” Perry said in June.
“The ACLU of Texas values the diversity of belief systems in public life, and each of our beliefs calls us to address problems in different ways. But none of us, especially an elected official, is in the position to say whether believers or non-believers should lead the way in solving our common problems,” said Terri Burke, Executive Director of the ACLU of Texas.
Under the state’s open records law, government officials have 10 business days to respond to open records requests.
The event also drew the ire of atheist groups. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed a federal lawsuit on July 13 to prevent Perry from taking part in the Christian prayer summit.
The legal complaint asks the federal court to declare unconstitutional Perry’s organization, promotion and participation in the event because it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
It says Perry’s active participation in the event violates the U.S. Constitution by “giving the appearance that the government prefers evangelical Christian religious beliefs over other religious beliefs and non-beliefs, including by aligning and partnering with the American Family Association, a virulent, discriminatory and evangelical Christian organization known for its intolerance.”
The website for the prayer summit says that Americans “must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles” because “some problems are beyond our power to solve.”
The event is co-hosted by the American Family Association, a fringe conservative Christian group that advocates the reform of American culture based on their interpretation of the Bible. FFRF said the association “promotes a rabid evangelical Christian agenda that is hostile to non-believers, non-Christians and other protected groups, such as gays and lesbians.”
Perry is the longest-serving governor in Texas history and is considering making a run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. In April, he issued an official proclamation urging Texans to pray for rain in the midst of a severe drought that had sparked more than 8,000 wildfires. Last year, he said the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico might have been an “act of God” that would have occurred regardless of safety regulations.