PFAW Edit Memo: The Response: Rick Perry Jockeys For The Fringe Vote

From: Michael Keegan, President, People For the American Way
To: Interested Parties
Date: August 4, 2011
Re: The Response: Rick Perry Jockeys For The Fringe Vote

On August 6th, Texas Gov. Rick Perry will host The Response, a Christian prayer rally in Houston’s Reliant Stadium that will anchor what he calls “a day of prayer and fasting on behalf of our nation.” Timed to take place shortly before the expected kick-off of Perry’s presidential campaign, The Response is presumably meant to introduce Americans to Perry’s values and vision for the country. Americans would do well to pay close attention: in planning The Response, Perry has aligned himself with some of the most extreme figures on the Religious Right and embraced a troubling sectarian vision for the country.

The Response’s call to prayer is deliberately designed to exclude people of non-Christian faiths: rally spokesman and former Perry aide Eric Bearse said that non-Christians should attend so they can “seek out the living Christ.” One organizer said that inviting people of other faiths to speak at the rally would be “idolatry of the worst sort.”

But Perry and The Response organizers aren’t just excluding non-Christians. As documented by People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch, they have designed the rally to only appeal to a particular brand of the Christian Right: the same group which Perry is courting as he contemplates and plans a run for the presidency.

The Religious Right, disenchanted with the current GOP field, would be a key constituency for Perry in the Republican primaries, and the Texas governor knows it. Many prominent Religious Right activists have reportedly participated in strategy sessions calling for additional candidates – and Perry specifically – to enter the presidential race. Leaders including Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins and Concerned Women for America CEO Penny Nance have also shown their regard for Perry by signing on as co-chairmen of The Response.

But most telling is the group that Perry chose as the official host entity of his blockbuster prayer event: the American Family Association (AFA). The AFA and its leaders have a long track record of promoting discrimination against gays and lesbians, Muslim-Americans and Native Americans. AFA Executive Vice President Buddy Smith, who is on the leadership board of The Response, claims that gays and lesbians “are in the clasp of Satan.” Bryan Fischer, the AFA’s chief spokesman, has called gay Americans “domestic terrorists” and claimed that gays were behind the rise of the Nazi Party and the Holocaust. He has demanded that all non-Christian immigrants “convert to Christianity” and said Native Americans are “morally disqualified from sovereign control of American soil.”

But the leaders of AFA are far from the only Perry allies to hold radical views.

Perry tapped several members of The Response team from the staff of the International House of Prayer (IHOP), a 24/7/365 prayer outlet whose affiliated The Call prayer rally serves as the model for The Response. IHOP – which is currently involved in a lawsuit from the International House of Pancakes – calls for the conversion of Jews to Christianity in order to bring about the End Times and employs Lou Engle, a preacher who defended legislation in Uganda that would make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. The group’s founder and executive director, Mike Bickle (also an official endorser of The Response) has claimed that Oprah Winfrey is the harbinger of the Antichrist and that the movement for marriage equality is “rooted in the depths of Hell.”

Other members of The Response leadership board include Jim Garlow, who has said supporters of gay rights are part of an “Antichrist spirit,” Doug Stringer, who claimed that “homosexuality” and “moral looseness” were responsible for the September 11th terrorist attacks, and Alice Patterson, who argued that the Democratic Party is dominated by “an invisible network of evil comprising an unholy structure.”

Many of The Response’s official endorsers have voiced similarly extreme beliefs:

And that is just scratching the surface. Other official endorsers of Perry’s rally have called for government regulation of gay sex, compared the fight against marriage equality to the fight against slavery, said that African Americans are punished by God for supporting the Democratic Party and floated violent revolution against the Obama administration.

Perry’s connections to such fringe figures are no mere oversight: the governor has personal ties to many of these extreme leaders.

Perry’s handling of The Response should trouble not only those who are committed to the constitutional separation of church and state but all Americans concerned about a presidential candidate who is ready to pander to the most radical forces on the far-right.

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