Groups gather opposition to Perry prayer meeting


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.

Perry invited the Obama administration, the nation's governors and Texas lawmakers to attend the prayer rally. Organizers say more than 1,100 churches have signed up to simulcast the event across the country.

"The Response has touched the hearts and minds of Americans across the country who want to pray for a country in crisis," event spokesman Eric Bearse said. "People are coming to Houston from all over the nation, and many more will tune in via simulcast to experience God's presence, and seek His forgiveness and provision in their own lives, and for the nation."

Bearse said there is no desire to gather in opposition to any group of philosophy.

"We are praying for all Americans," he said. "We are seeking forgiveness for our own part in a country in decline, and we are lifting up Jesus Christ as the source of power and inspiration in our lives."

He added that the rally "will represent the diversity of the body of Christ, and will showcase the ethnic and racial diversity of America."

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