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Jewish lawmaker ‘disappointed’ that Perry has allied himself with ‘exclusionary’ AFA

A chorus of criticism has responded to Gov. Rick Perry’s alliance with the controversial American Family Association, and one Texas legislator is also voicing his disapproval of the religiously limited nature of the Christian-based prayer and fasting event set to take place this August.

State Rep. Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin) said the National Association of Jewish Legislators, of which he is a member, has expressed its “disappointment and shock” over the governor’s creation of a “divisive and exclusionary” event, via several phone calls with Naishtat.

“I’m disappointed that Gov. Perry would choose to align himself or affiliate with an organization that is on record as being exclusionary in nature,” said Naishtat, who also belongs to the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Congress — two groups that have denounced AFA for anti-Semitic remarks. “This type of sectarian event can only serve to put people into religious boxes that decrease the chances that there will ever be public acceptance of different groups and faiths.”

AFA president Tim Wildmon recently told the Texas Tribune that non-Christians are headed to hell. “It’s not just Jews or Muslims,” Wildmon said. “It’s anybody that rejects the free gift of salvation through Christ. The Bible teaches there’s heaven and hell. Those who believe go to heaven. Those who don’t go to hell.”

Naishtat said the fact that the call for prayer/fasting didn’t reference other religions such as Judaism and Islam and that AFA’s message includes phrases like ‘eternal damnation that awaits non-believers’ is offensive to whomever AFA considers to be a nonbeliever. Naishtat said the event is unlike others in the country, such as National Prayer Days, which, “almost always include all faiths.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled AFA a ‘hate group’ for its anti-gay stances.

In addition to attacking the LGBT, Muslim and African-American communities, AFA has also targeted the Jewish community in its publication, the American Family Association Journal. Author Randall Murphree suggested that a Jewish upbringing leads to hatred of Christians, and by extension, a criminal lifestyle, according to Media Matters for America. The ADL of Austin also questioned the religious exclusivity of Perry’s prayer/fast, cautioning against the endorsement of one religion over another by publicly elected officials, the Texas Independent has previously reported.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, whose Jewish faith became an issue among conservative Christian opponents during the speaker’s race before this year’s session, declined to comment on the issue. Likewise, state Rep. Scott Hochberg (D-Houston), who is also Jewish, chose not to comment as well.

Hochberg said, “I would not have a comment at this time. I do not have personal knowledge of the activities of AFA and generally don’t comment based on press reports.”

AFA event spokesman Eric Bearse, who is a former Perry speechwriter, said that although “The Response” is a Christian service, it is open to all faiths and traditions. “With malice toward none, all can pray to the one that gives power in their lives. For those in Reliant Stadium, it will be the savior Jesus Christ,” he said.

Bearse countered organizations’ condemnation of AFA, saying “This is all part of a smear campaign by secularist organizations that want to distract from the mainstream Biblical agenda of the American Family Association, and more importantly, from the point of this event, which has nothing to do with a particular policy issue and everything to do with bringing people together to pray for the welfare of our country.”

However, as the People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch reported, Bearse has also said that a main purpose of the Aug. 6 Houston event is to bring people to “the living Christ,” as opposed to “bringing people together.”

Bearse said on AFA’s American Family Radio:

“A lot of people want to criticize what we’re doing, as if we’re somehow being exclusive of other faiths. But anyone who comes to this solemn assembly regardless of their faith tradition or background, will feel the love, grace, and warmth of Jesus Christ in that assembly hall, in that arena. And that’s what we want to convey, that there’s acceptance and that there’s love and that there’s hope if people will seek out the living Christ. And that’s the message we want to spread on August 6th.”

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