Group Fights Governor's Day of Prayer

     HOUSTON (CN) - The Freedom From Religion Foundation wants Gov. Rick Perry enjoined from leading a prayer rally at the 71,000-seat Reliant Stadium on Aug. 6, saying it would violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.
     The nonprofit plaintiff claims more than 16,000 members nationwide, "who are opposed to governmental establishment and endorsement of religion," according to the federal complaint co-signed by five of its Houston members.
     "Governor Perry has declared August 6, 2011 as an official Day of Prayer and Fasting, a day on which all citizens are expressly encouraged by Governor Perry to pray to Jesus Christ; the Day of Prayer and Fasting has been declared by the Governor to coincide with the prayer rally," the complaint states.
     "The prayer rally organized by Governor Perry at Reliant Stadium is intended for believers of the Christian faith and persons who are open to conversion; the prayer rally, more particularly, is intended for evangelical Christians."
     Perry has promoted and endorsed the prayer rally "in his capacity as governor and has included visible indicia of official state sponsorship, including the use of the Official State Seal of Texas in promotions," the foundation says.
     To promote the event, Perry, who is mulling a presidential run, teamed up with the American Family Association, "an organization that advocates and promotes a rabid evangelical Christian agenda that is hostile to non-believers, non-Christians, and other protected groups, including gays and lesbians," the complaint states.
     The foundation calls the American Family Association a "virulent, discriminatory and evangelical Christian organization known for its intolerance."
The foundation adds: "Governor Perry is using his Office as Governor of Texas to receive for his benefit the financial underwriting of the American Family Association. The support from the American Family Association, by underwriting the August 6 prayer rally, allows the governor to reflect in the limelight of American Family Association's overt Christianity and disdain for other groups, including non-believers and non-Christians. Governor Perry, by his preferential endorsement of the American Family Association, conveys a message of support, using his official status as governor for the endorsement of religion."
     The American Family Association has set up a website for the rally, which includes an open letter from Gov. Perry exhorting Christians to attend.
"The Houston Clergy Council, in fact, has issued a statement condemning Perry's proclamation of prayer and fasting, noting the American Family Association's anti-gay and anti-Muslim record, and saying, 'We ask that Rick Perry leave the ministry to us and refocus his energy on the work of governing our state,'" according to the complaint.
     "The prayer rally orchestrated by Governor Perry violates the Establishment Clause by endorsing religion over non-religion, as well as by endorsing Christianity over non-Christian religions," the Freedom From Religion Foundation says.
     The foundation seeks an "injunction prohibiting Governor Perry's further involvement in the scheduled prayer rally, as well as an injunction against future uses of official indicia of the State of Texas in promoting and proclaiming the establishment of religion."
     It also seeks declaratory judgment that "Governor Perry's organization, promotion and participation in the August 6 prayer rally at Reliant Stadium is unconstitutional," and that his official proclamation of a Day of Prayer and Fasting and use of the Texas seal to promote the event violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.
     And it wants Perry ordered to withdraw his permission for the American Family Association to use his written and videotaped promotions for the rally, and enjoined from issuing and disseminating more Day of Prayer proclamations.
     The plaintiffs are represented by Randall Kallinen.