How to Respond to Rick Perry and ‘The Response’
By PAUL HORWITZ
Paul Horwitz, a professor of law at the University of Alabama, is the author of “The Agnostic Age: Law, Religion and the Constitution.”
TODAY, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is scheduled to appear at Reliant Stadium in Houston for “The Response,” an all-day event of Christian-centered prayer and fasting intended, as Mr. Perry explains on the event’s Web site, to address the various crises that have “besieged” America.
Mr. Perry’s use of official resources, including a gubernatorial proclamation, to promote the prayer service has drawn criticism from civil liberties groups. He has been hinting at a run for the Republican presidential nomination, and many critics see the prayer service as an improper attempt to court the religious right. One group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, sought an injunction barring Mr. Perry from promoting the event, saying his actions “brazenly cross the line between government and religion.” Last week, a federal judge denied that request, ruling that Mr. Perry’s invitations to prayer were “requests, not commands,” and thus did not violate the First Amendment’s separation of church and state."Requests, not commands". In my view, that is the essence of a rational interpretation of the Establishment Clause. The Constitution prohibits an Establishment-- coercion in religion. It does not prohibit free expression of religion. It guarantees free expression, and makes no exception for people in government. The judge's decision gets it exactly right- Perry is not coercing anyone.
'But', atheists say, 'Perry's use of official resources is coercion of atheists who don't want to pay for this stuff.'
Nonsense. Religious and irreligious activities get all kinds of taxpayer financing. Firemen will put out fires in St Patrick's Cathedral and in the Center for Secular Humanism. Police protect the right of Baptists to worship in safety just as they protect the right of attendees at The Amazing Meeting to
Public resources are used everywhere to support religious and irreligious activities. That does not constitute an Establishment of Religion, because it is does not force anyone to worship against their will or to fund one specific kind of worship to the exclusion of all others.
Public officials can pray, hold prayer meetings, hold atheist meetings, hold agnostic meetings etc. as long as there is no coerced attendance or coerced affirmation of religious viewpoints. Richard Dawkins can speak at a public university at public expense because his irreligious views do not involve coercion.
The court was right on the law, but its decision tells only half the story. Mr. Perry’s critics have plenty of ammunition, but they’ve chosen the wrong weapon. The problem is not only that such legal maneuvers routinely fail; it’s also that they do a disservice to religious freedom and diminish meaningful public debate. There are better ways to express disagreement with religious statements made by elected officials than to use the courts to try to pre-empt them.Precisely. 'Censorship by federal judge' is an odious tactic.
Religion plays too important a part in many people’s lives to be denied a role in the public square. To be sure, there are some things the state can’t do, like demand that schoolchildren pray each day.I agree. But it's the "demand", not the "pray", that's the problem.
But elected officials, like other citizens, are free to have and express religious views.The First Amendment didn't say "... Free Exercise of Religion except for Public Employees..."
And voters are entitled to support or reject public officials for all kinds of reasons, including their religious views. To hold that elected officials can’t publicly invoke their religion won’t help a country of believers, agnostics and atheists reach any kind of consensus. It will only impoverish the conversation, depriving many citizens of the ability to make, and judge, arguments that reflect their most cherished views.Censorship does not advance public life. It merely imposes the will of one fringe sect (atheists) on everyone else.
Moreover, by trying to banish religion from the public sphere, Mr. Perry’s critics end up cutting themselves out of the debate.Atheists are happy to cut themselves out of the debate. They always lose the debate. If they won debates, they wouldn't always be suing to silence debate.
When religion is viewed as a fundamentally private matter, the natural corollary is to think that it is inappropriate to criticize someone’s faith. Thus, when such critics lose the constitutional argument, they find themselves in the awkward position of not feeling entitled to directly criticize the religious view in question.Atheists don't find criticizing religion "awkward". They find it unsuccessful. That's what makes them so angry.
Politicians who invoke their faith to lure religious voters benefit from this paralysis. Consider Mitt Romney. When questioned by voters during the last presidential campaign about his Mormon faith, Mr. Romney commendably refused to disavow it. But he also refused to discuss it in any detail, claiming that would impose a religious test on his candidacy.
This double standard needs to end. If religion can’t be forbidden in our public debates, even for elected officials, neither should it be immune from public criticism.No one said that religion should be "immune from public criticism". Immunity of atheism from public criticism is, however, the fundamental goal of lawsuits that create a monopoly for Darwinism in public schools.
And in the case of Mr. Perry and “The Response,” there are good reasons to be critical.
Mr. Perry is free to call a meeting where only people who agree that Jesus Christ is the one true savior are welcome. Many Christian politicians understandably share that belief — but few of them commence potential presidential campaigns that way. They believe that all Americans, regardless of faith, have a role to play in making this a more perfect union. We are entitled to shun any politician who rejects that approach.What Christian politician is saying that all Americans don't "have a role to play in making this a more perfect union." What a stupid thing to assert.
We should question the prayer service’s tone, too. Other politicians have invoked prayer in times of trouble; Abraham Lincoln was one of them. But with characteristic humility, Lincoln called for repentance, not sectarian struggle. He saw human inequality and cruelty as the real sin against God. By emphasizing creeds, not deeds, Mr. Perry encourages the very divisions that Lincoln believed lay at the root of America’s ills.Free speech, pal.
Finally, we’re entitled to judge Mr. Perry’s association with the prayer service’s organizers. Many people, religious and otherwise, reject the views of the American Family Association, a principal organizer of the event whose vitriolic stances on issues like gay rights have led the Southern Poverty Law Center to call it a “hate group.”The American Family Association doesn't oppose "gay rights". It affirms the rights of gays to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, right to bear arms, right to a trial by jury, etc. Those are gay rights, and straight rights, and everyone's rights.
Singling out people who practice a certain kind of sex for government-enforced privileges isn't "rights", it's interest group perks, often entailing the denial of rights to others.
The views of the American Family Association on gay rights reflect the views of most Americans. The appellation of "hate group" to the American public has long been a leftist goal.
The Southern Poverty Law Center hates the American Family Association. Does that make the Southern Policy Law Center a "hate group". Why are fringe leftist groups always immune from "hate group" labeling? Last I looked, there's a lot of hate on the left.
Mr. Perry has tried to distance himself from some of these views. But we can certainly ask why he has embraced those who hold them.Do ask. Lets keep the conversation going.
Some people think we would be better off without religion in public life. In the long run, however, we would lose much more than we gain. Our debates may be more contentious if we allow religion in, but they will also be more committed and honest. Just as the Constitution allows Mr. Perry to stake his political future on “The Response,” it allows the rest of us to answer back.Horowitz is of course right in most of his recommendations. The proper way to deal with differing views on religion is more public discussion, not less. The free public airing of disagreements without coercion is healthy and is protected by the Constitution. The only people who oppose free speech are those who understand that their ideology won't fare well in the free exchange of ideas.
Censorship of religious expression has no place in our society. Are you listening, atheists?