POSTED: Friday, August 5, 2011 - 5:40pm
UPDATED: Friday, August 5, 2011 - 9:14pm
HOUSTON — Gov. Rick Perry's prayer rally is expected to draw thousands of protesters Saturday, including Muslims, Jews and even some Christians who say the evangelical event is exclusionary and inappropriate and Perry is overstepping the bounds of his office by hosting it.
The seven-hour event, billed as "The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis," will be at Reliant Stadium in Houston, home to the NFL's Texans. More than 8,000 people have signed up to attend the rally, which is sponsored by several evangelical Christian groups and will include praying and Scripture reading.
Protesters, including a group of 50 local religious leaders who signed a letter expressing concern earlier this week, are calling the meeting exclusionary and disrespectful of the separation of church and state. One of the sponsors, the American Family Association, has been criticized by civil rights groups for promoting anti-homosexual and anti-Islamic positions on the roughly 200 radio stations it operates.
"What the governor has done is align himself with a certain kind of Christianity," said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "The groups that are sponsoring tomorrow's event on his behalf have certain theological and political views that represent only a tiny fringe of American Christian thought. Even many of us who are Christians disagree with the views that these organizations espouse."
Perry, who is moving closer to announcing whether he intends to make a run for the White House, has rejected the criticism as unfair.
As many as 500 people were expected to attend a more inclusive religious event Friday at a Baptist church in Houston. And in Austin, U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett was expected to be among 1,500 people to gather Saturday in front of the Capitol for a march and rally that local Democrats are calling "Governor Rick Perry: Bad for Texas, Worse for our Nation."
The watchdog group Texas Freedom Network sent Perry a letter earlier this week signed by 10,000 people saying he is using religion for political gain. People for the American Way criticized the event for including intolerant groups.
"He's not pastoring a church called the Lone Star State," Lynn said.
More protesters, including Houston resident Kay Staley, were expected to gather Saturday outside the stadium. Staley was one of five plaintiffs who sued Perry over the event. A judge threw out the lawsuit last week, saying the plaintiffs could not show sufficient harm to merit the injunction they sought.
"Governor Perry's exclusionary use of religion is politically, culturally and religiously divisive and unacceptable constitutionally," said Randy Czarlinsky, director of the American Jewish Committee's Houston chapter.