Perry/AFA event denounced by Houston Clergy Council, attracts new controversial supporters
In the latest show of disapproval for Gov. Rick Perry’s prayer and fasting rally, the Houston Clergy Council (HCC) has penned a letter expressing its opposition to the early August event, set to take place at Houston’s Reliant Stadium. The group is concerned with the event’s lack of inclusiveness toward other faiths, failure to represent the religious diversity of Houston and overstepping of church and state separation boundaries. Yet, the clergy say they are most troubled by Perry’s affiliation with the controversial American Family Association.
“Our deepest concern, however, lies in the fact that funding for this event appears to come from the American Family Association, an organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The American Family Association and its leadership have a long track record of anti-gay speech and have actively worked to discriminate against the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. The American Family Association and its leadership have also been stridently anti-Muslim, going so far as to question the rights of Muslim Americans to freely organize and practice their faith. We believe it is inappropriate for our governor to organize a religious event funded by a group known for its discriminatory stances.”
The clergy requests Perry leave the ministry to them and refocus his energy on governing the state. The letter is signed by two-dozen progressive religious leaders, including many from the Unitarian Universalist Church. The concerns echo those of a number of national, state and local faith-based, activist and LGBT-rights organizations. The Interfaith Alliance, the Secular Coalition for America and the Houston GLBT Political Caucus are among the groups condemning the event’s religious exclusiveness and/or its main sponsor, AFA, as the Texas Independent has reported.
While HCC may schedule a pro-tolerance speaker as counter-programming to the Perry event, Houston’s largest evangelical ‘megachurches’ – Lakewood Church, Second Baptist and Houston’s First Baptist – have applauded Perry’s efforts to host a day of prayer, reports the Houston Chronicle’s Believe It or Not Blog.
A protest is scheduled to take place across the street from the Stadium on the day of the event. The number of attendees ballooned from 70 one week ago to more than 300 today, according to the protest’s Facebook page.
Recently, more controversial figures have signed on to endorse Perry’s prayer/fast, including Dave Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council. Welch was interviewed for his thoughts on the religious aspect of the Texas House Speaker race on late-night comedy program The Daily Show this February, at which time he said it didn’t matter what religious denomination the Speaker is, just as long as he’s not Muslim, theTexas Independent previously reported.
According to the exchange:
“Can we at least agree that we don’t want a Muslim Speaker?” asked Daily Show comedian/correspondent John Oliver.
“I would say right now, yes — for a variety of reasons,” Welch said. “Again, the deep concerns about the loyalty of Muslims to the Constitution.”
“Right, so you say to your congregation, ‘You can vote for whoever you want regardless of their denomination — apart from a Muslim,’” Oliver said.
“Yes,” Welch said.
Welch’s comments were challenged by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, an organization representing congregations from more than 30 faith traditions in the Austin area, and San Antonio businessman Masarrat Ali.
Welch was also instrumental in leading anti-gay attacks against openly lesbian Houston Mayor Annise Parker, during her campaign.
“The bottom line is that we didn’t pick the battle, she did, when she made her agenda and sexual preference a central part of her campaign,” he told the Houston Chronicle. “National gay and lesbian activists see this as a historic opportunity. The reality is that’s because they’re promoting an agenda which we believe to be contrary to the concerns of the community and destructive to the family.”
After her win, Welch denounced Lakewood Church Pastor Joel Olsteen for blessing Parker, saying her sinful, gay lifestyle mocks God and perverts Christianity. In a lightly veiled shot at Parker, Welch wrote that political victories of wicked rulers are “indicators of cancer of the soul among the people.”
Texas-based WallBuilders CEO David Barton is also backing the event now. Barton also had interjected his opinion into the House Speaker contest, opposing current Speaker Joe Straus for not being conservative enough. Barton, a self-identified historian, was influential in shaping controversial Texas State Board of Education history standards and is routinely criticized by the academic community for failing to accurately depict historical fact.
A former leader of the Texas GOP, the evangelical has worked to bridge the religious right with the conservative Republican Party, and has strong ties with Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, both of whom are presidential candidates. Barton also has a track record of flirting with other far-right hate groups aside from AFA, according to Texas Freedom Network.
According to a January Post on the TFN Insider blog:
“In 1991 Barton spoke at two events sponsored by groups with ties to white supremacists. He later pleaded ignorance, claiming that he had not known the groups were “part a Nazi movement.” But today Barton’s Internet radio program was scheduled to include the head of a group the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as a viciously anti-gay hate group.
“The program’s guest, Brian Camenker, is head of the Massachusetts-based group MassResistance, which links homosexuality to pedophilia and the promotion of bestiality, according to SPLC. MassResistance also claims that anti-bullying and suicide-prevention programs in schools are intended to lure children into homosexuality and even sadomasochism. Camenker has even falsely claimed that no gay people died in the Holocaust, SPLC reports.”
Another new endorser of the Perry prayer/fast is attorney Kelly Shackelford of the Liberty Institute, the loose affiliate of Focus on the Family for Texas, who recently led the charge against Arabic classes taught to Texas elementary school children. By teaching Arab culture, argued Shackelford, Islam may be forced upon students, according to TFN:
“When you have requirements that not only teach the Arabic language, but the culture, the history, the traditions, the words that they use, you can’t help but teach Islam. Now you are going to be in a serious situation of how balanced or biased this is going to be.”
The Liberty Institute — which also sought to stymie Straus’ reelection as Speaker — tried to persuade Texas legislators to nix protections for the LGBT community via expansion and review of hate crimes law and employment discrimination legislation, considering such measures a form of mind control and suppression of opposing views to homosexuality, the Texas Independent previously reported