Attempting to arrest his meteoric flameout from the GOP’s good graces, Rick Perry is running this ad on TV in Iowa:
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. As President, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage. Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again. I’m Rick Perry, and I approve this message.
Now, I could call Perry’s ad despicably bigoted and insultingly dishonest right here and be done with it. But instead, I’ll proffer actual, verifiable facts, and you can decide for yourself if I’m being unfair to this desperate candidate.
Governor Perry states that President Obama has waged “war on religion.” Really? Here’s what I’ve seen President Obama, or his subordinates, do with respect to religion since taking office in January of 2009:
- Increased the budget for subsidizing “Faith-Based Initiatives”.
- Maintained an executive order allowing federally-subsidized religious charities to violate antidiscrimination laws with impunity.
- Invited a prominent evangelical pastor to deliver his inaugural invocation.
- Defended the display of Christian crosses on Federally-controlled land and the flimsy tissue of legislation intended to keep them there before the Supreme Court.
- Personally, and in his official capacity as President, delivered Christian prayers to packed houses of Christians.
- Actually gone to church, which is a significant effort because the logistics involved are staggering. The Obamas have picked a private pastor (a Navy chaplain) and get daily devotionals delivered to them at breakfast.
Those things don’t seem very hostile to religion in general or Christianity in particular to me.
Let’s take the claim made by the candidate himself. Governor Perry’s complaint is that something is wrong when “when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.”
Is it somehow bad that gays can serve openly in the military? It is the case that President Obama urged Congress to repeal the Don’t Act, Don’t Tell policy. It is also the case that President Obama’s Justice Department defended that policy in court, at least until he didn’t. The nuance of insisting on political reversal rather than judicial overruling of the policy was lost on a lot of people. Apparently Governor Perry is one of them.
I note further the implication that “…there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military”. That’s not the whole sentence, but it is an independent clause within it and an intelligent read of the complaint is that according to Governor Perry and those who think like him, indeed, there is something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military and that is the sort of message he thinks that his target audience wants to hear.
Moving on to the other clause of Perry’s complaint: “there’s something wrong in this country when … our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” Says who? Who’s stopping anyone from openly celebrating Christmas? Oh, maybe the complaint is “kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas in school.” (Is there something about serving as Governor of Texas that garbles one’s syntax?)
But who is saying that they can’t do these things? Did that crypto-Muslim Obama promulgate some sort of national rule against minors wearing reindeer sweaters to school all of a sudden? Because I can’t find that rule anywhere.
Let’s be really, really clear about this: kids can pray in school if they want. If you are a student in a public school anywhere in the United States of America, and you want to pray of your own initiative, and don’t disrupt instructional activities when you do it, then have at it. Kids are as free to pray, or exchange gifts, or even to preach the Good News to their colleagues, every bit as free as they are to read a Harry Potter book or play basketball or talk about whether the werewolf boy is hotter than the vampire boy. Kids can pray in class, too — again, as long as they don’t disrupt the class by doing it, and as long as they aren’t prompted to do so by the teacher.
And that’s the real objection, not to the straw man — it’s not sufficient that kids have the freedom to pray on their own. The true complaint here is that (public school) teachers may not instruct students to pray. Even then, there is a back door to teacher prompts to prayer, as a teacher is free to start his or her class with “a moment for prayer, meditation, or other silent thoughts.” A moment of silence is, at least according to current law, sufficiently non-sectarian and of at least potential, minimal, educational value that a teacher can call for it and not violate the Establishment Clause.
Finally, there’s this little rhetorical turn: “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian.” Since when did anyone in the United States have to be “ashamed” of their Christianity? Christianity is by far the majority faith in the United States. There is no non-Christian candidate from either major party seeking the Presidency and of the 535 members elected to the 112th Congress, 483 at least claim to worship Jesus.* Christians are far from an unempowered, oppressed minority in the United States.
Telling Christians that they are victims and oppressed and under some sort of ill-defined and nonexistent threat is apparently the way that Rick Perry hopes to salvage the wreckage of his Presidential campaign and thus, his political career. Piety is the last refuge of a scoundrel, and while I don’t have any direct evidence to offer that Perry is a scoundrel, I find his appeal to piety now that his back is up against the wall to be most unappealing.
* And of those that are not, are almost all Jewish, and at least these days, it’s entirely cool with the Christian folk if you’re a Jew.