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Praying Is a Right For All Americans

Today let’s talk about what’s not a crime.

In a country that was founded on freedom of religion, it is not a crime to pray.

It’s not a crime to publicly pray to the deity of your choice. It’s not a crime for someone who holds public office to pray. It’s not a crime to be a politician and host a public prayer meeting.

But after a recent spate of indignant media coverage I wouldn’t blame you if you thought there was something wrong with Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s participation in what was called “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis” held in Houston.

Up front, let me say you will never read a political endorsement in a column written by me. I’m a registered independent. I hear that Perry may choose an appearance in South Carolina this weekend to “remove any doubt about” his plan to run for president, but that makes no difference to me.

This column is not about politics or religion. It is about common sense and the right of every citizen in America to pray when and where they want without criticism. Yep, even politicians.

Perry is a lifelong Christian. He’s never made a secret of that, and in fact he’s long worn his religion on his sleeve for all to see. For example, back in April, he issued a gubernatorial proclamation calling for three days of prayer to end the drought that’s plagued Texas. He often gives a hearty “Amen” to the prayers of others while at public events.

There is absolutely nothing in the law that says he must keep his beliefs to himself.

The recent Houston prayer meeting Perry co-sponsored was not an exclusive event where Muslims, Hindus, Jews or Wiccans were unwelcome. Perry had openly invited people of every faith to join him and 30,000 others in praying for our country during this time of economic and governmental turmoil.

“Father, our hearts break for America,” he said during his 13 minutes at the podium. “We see discord at home. We see fear in the marketplace. We see anger in the halls of government,” and he asked for divine forgiveness and guidance for the country. He prayed for President Obama and the men and women who serve in our military.

What’s wrong with that?

National media organizations first jumped on the rally controversy after a group called The Freedom From Religion Foundation – a self-proclaimed church-and-state watchdog organization – filed suit last month to try to stop the governor from participating in the event.

Their argument was that Perry’s involvement would have been unconstitutional because it suggests the government prefers Christianity above all other religions. The lawsuit was dismissed.

The media then focused on others opposed to Perry’s plan.

He was branded a politician using his status to ram his religion down the throats of others. Opponents cried that Perry used an official looking website and letterhead to invite people to the event. A letter with 10,000 signatures accusing Perry of using the religious rally to gain support for a presidential bid made headlines.

And, Perry’s judgment was called into question when it was reported that the American Family Association was a co-sponsor. The organization has been called a hate group after one of its officials made derogatory statements about homosexuals and Muslims.

None of that, in my opinion, should strip any American of his or her right to pray when and where he or she chooses. Now, if Perry had demanded all state employees attend the rally or drum up attendance for him, I’d have a real problem with that. But that does not appear to be the case.

Perry could become the Republican nominee for president, and if people object to those he associates with or his public call to prayer causes some voters not to vote for him – well, that is a consequence he will have to live with.

But let’s not swallow the idea that a man – by virtue of his occupation – has somehow lost his constitutional right to pray in public because someone standing next to him said something ugly about a fellow citizen.

And one more thing: Don’t buy the argument that the underlying problem is a separation of church and state violation, as many media hammered.

First, the truth is that the church and state doctrine (as first written about by Thomas Jefferson) refers to Americans demanding their legislature to “make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” And second, the U.S. Constitution says right there in the First Amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a homogenized politician who aims to please everyone with politically correct dogma and doesn’t have a sense of awe about our place in the universe. I don’t want an officeholder who doesn’t publicly express his or her most deeply held beliefs, because I want to know the character of the person I might vote for.

If you ask me, more politicians should pray for divine guidance to straighten out the nation’s problems. Not much else seems to be working. – email to