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Religious leaders join ACLU, AU in denouncing ‘The Response’ across from Reliant Stadium

In preparation for their “Family, Faith & Freedom” rally planned as an alternative to “The Response” — tomorrow’s controversial prayer and fast hosted by Gov. Rick Perry — the ACLU of Texas, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and various religious leaders of the Houston community came together to express their disappointment with the prayer rally today, calling the Perry-led event divisive, unconstitutional and exclusionary.

In a conference room across from Reliant Stadium, the venue for Saturday’s prayer event, AU executive director Rev. Barry Lynn said the rally is not only in violation of church-state boundaries, but is a dangerous result of spiritual arrogance and a form of government-supported evangelism.

“The aim of the event is to persuade people to adopt specific religious beliefs. That is never the government’s job. The sponsors will let non-Christians in precisely so they can learn about Jesus and be converted,” said Lynn, who also condemned the American Family Association’s role in the event. The group is funding the event, and has been classified as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, as the Texas Independent has reported.

“Even many of us Christians disagree with what we can expect to hear tomorrow. I don’t believe our nation is under a curse because we have welcomed gay people, I don’t believe the statue of liberty is a demonic idol, I don’t believe Christ punishes people with bad weather,” said Lynn, alluding to contentious remarks by some endorsers of the event.

Bill Martin, senior fellow for Religion and Public Policy at Rice University said James Madison would disapprove of Perry’s event because it conflates religious and government interests. Thomas Jefferson, Martin recalled, once hosted a prayer rally of his own, and later said he was mistaken for doing so.

Martin said even if the religious event was void of political undertones, the highly publicized rally fails in matching the Bible’s teachings as written in Matthew 6:5-6: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray in public places to be seen by others… But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your heavenly parent, who is unseen.”

Jewish and Muslim leaders were also on hand today, and said the event’s religious exclusivity is problematic. Randy Czarlinsky of the American Jewish Committee of Houston said the “overtly Christian” event stood in stark contrast to the National Day of Prayer hosted by the White House and other prayer events across the country. Mustafaa Carroll of the Council on American-Islamic Relations stressed the importance of embracing religious pluralism, and said his group was not protesting the prayer aspect of the event, but its political underpinnings.

“Public office cannot be used to project personal beliefs to others. No government should be in the business of promoting one specific religion, we are a pluralstic nation,” said Carroll. “The governor has missed a golden opportunity to show true leadership in uniting all Texans.”

An update on the ACLU’s open records request filed last month to ensure no taxpayer funds have been spent on the Perry-sponsored event, turned up 700 pages of documents, said ACLU of Texas’ executive director Terri Burke. But, she said, they offered no clarity as to whether public money had been spent on the event. The group will continue to review the newly released information for evidence, Burke said, but after an all-night analysis, she said the documents were mostly unhelpful.

The counter-rally takes place tonight in Houston at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church at 7 p.m., and features a host of religious leaders.

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