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Will ‘The Response’ fill the seats on August 6?

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/07/MahurinReligion_Thumb.jpgLess than a week remains before Gov. Rick Perry’s Houston prayer event, and since Perry distanced himself from some controversial endorsers of “The Response,” reports that Perry may not even be speaking at all have left room for speculation as to just what role he’ll play.

Event spokesman Eric Bearse, who served as Perry’s speechwriter for eight years, told the Texas Independent that plans for the governor’s role at the event have never changed, and have not been influenced by mounting controversy.

Perry’s role was initially “to be determined” and remains that way, Bearse said, and it will be up to the governor and organizers to decide if the governor will deliver a speech.

“The point of the event is to focus on the God that attendees will be praying to, not the individual that came up with the idea,” Bearse said. “It’s not about a particular man, it’s about a movement of people who want to come together and pray — and I know the governor feels the same way.”

Questions have also mounted as to which other endorsers and event sponsors will have speaking roles at the event, but Bearse said the rest of the all-day prayer rally’s speaking lineup has not been decided, either.

The event lists supporters with lengthy track records of contentious commentary, including linking gays with the rise of Nazism, arguing Muslims should not have First Amendment rights and claiming talk show host Oprah is the forerunner to the Antichrist, as the Texas Independent previously reported.

Bearse said the leadership employed a “concrete strategy” to wrangle the roughly 100 endorsers to the event. Key figures in the event such as influential evangelical organizer David Lane, sat down together to choose which members of the spiritual community they wanted to ask for support while hundreds of volunteers signed on to elicit the potential attendees from local and national churches and ministries via email or direct phone contact. The rest, he said, came by word of mouth.

Then there’s the question of attendance, whether Houston’s spacious Reliant Stadium, the prayer rally’s venue and home of the National Football League’s Houston Texans, will fill up on Aug. 6. Bearse says the number of registrants for “The Response” has grown from 6,000 RSVPs to 8,000 — a figure that still accounts for only a small fraction of the park’s 71,000-seat capacity.

“We are not really concerned with the quantity of people that come. It’s frankly more about the powerful event that will speak to those who do come,” said Bearse. “It’s never been about the numbers.”

The number of RSVPs is nearly equivalent to the more than 7,500 signatures on a critical open letter written by the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network, which is protesting the event organizers who Perry partnered with for the event, the American Family Association, a designated anti-gay hate group.

“If the turnout this weekend is as poor as it looks right now, that does seem to send a message. At some point pandering begins to look really cynical and transparent even to the folks who are being courted,” said TFN spokesman Dan Quinn. “I think most people get uncomfortable when they see politicians who so cravenly use appeals to religion to promote their own political careers.”

“And it can’t help that many of the people Gov. Perry has chosen to partner with on this are so nakedly partisan and are really the fringe of the fringe,” Quinn added. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of folks who might otherwise support Gov. Perry feel more than a little offended.”

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