Gov. Rick Perry’s Aug. 6 day of prayer and fasting at Reliant Stadium is generating significant heat nationwide, with critics protesting the exclusively Christian focus of the event and Perry’s partnership with the controversial American Family Association, which advocates against gay rights.
Expressing objections on a variety of religious and cultural grounds, some opponents have organized a protest on Facebook, while others are urging the nation’s 49 other governors invited by Perry to boycott the event.
To host the Reliant Park event, Perry chose the Mississippi-based American Family Association, a nonprofit that operates a network of 192 radio stations with 2 million followers that has been labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center for what the SPLC calls the dissemination of “known falsehoods” about homosexuality. The AFA also has called for numerous boycotts against companies and entities it says “promote the homosexual agenda.”
Critics also accused Perry of using a religious event to boost a possible presidential bid.
“I want to be clear that my criticism of the governor doesn’t stem from my lack of appreciation for religion, rather it comes from my deep respect for religion and from not wanting religion to be prostituted for political purposes,” said C. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister and president of the Washington, D.C.-based Interfaith Alliance. “I think the people of Texas elected him to be the governor of the state, not the pastor of the state.”
Noel Freeman, head of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, said his organization did not take offense with “the event itself. If Governor Perry wants to have a prayer event, that’s his prerogative. The thing we take exception to is that his primary partner in this is an anti-gay hate group. They are primarily known for that fact. This was not a secret to either Governor Perry or his staff.”
Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, rejected the label of “hate group” and characterized his organization’s position on homosexuality as representative “of a lot of people who have traditional values.”
“They want somebody to speak for them,” he said. “We try to do that. We are reaching the Christian community with the truth about what is going on in our country.”
He acknowledged that a stated purpose of the August prayer event initiated by Perry – to pray for an end to the “debasement of our culture” – refers to the increasing acceptance of homosexuality by American society.
Well, as we’ve seen, the AFA is going to continue to tell everyone exactly how they feel about gays and non-Christians and anyone else they consider to be undesirable, which in turn will tell us all what this rally really is about, no matter what Rick Perry may say. It would be nice, as Perry makes his national tour this week, if he were to be asked at every stop whether he agrees with what the AFA is saying or not. I don’t actually expect that to happen, of course.
In the meantime, someone might want to visit with this fellow and help him point his browser to the AFA’s website.
When it comes to hosting potentially controversial events at the Reliant Complex, SMG/Reliant Park general manager Mark Miller said each proposal is considered on its own merits — within reason.
“It’s really a case-by-case basis of who wants to come book the building and what they want to book the building for,” said Miller, whose company contracts with Harris County to operate the Reliant complex. “If any group came by that was presenting a program that we didn’t feel was in the best interest of the community, I think it would be doubtful the building would be rented to them.”
Miller said SMG has turned down events in the past, but those denials were based on the events not being in the park’s business interests – renting out for an arena football game, for instance, a Texans competitor — and not because of ethical or moral concerns.
“Whether or not somebody has categorized (the AFA) as a hate group, I didn’t have any knowledge of that,” Miller said of Perry’s event. “Somebody coming in wanting to have a prayer event for the nation doesn’t automatically raise a red flag that it’s a bad thing to do.”
The content of a proposed program matters more than the group wishing to present it, he said.
“The presenting entity would raise the level of scrutiny regarding the program and the appropriateness of the program. If somebody came in that was obviously a group that had a reputation of violence or a reputation of being anti-government or anti-whatever, then obviously we would look,” Miller said. “We wouldn’t want to rent to al-Qaeda.”
You shouldn’t want to rent to the AFA, either. Perhaps if Mr. Miller were to learn a little more about them, he’d feel that way, too.