Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been inciting outrage for his endorsement of a prayer and fasting event being held this Saturday in Houston from the most unexpected quarter--the Christian community.
Christian leaders have been blasting the Republican politician for allegedly using his public office to show preference for a particular faith.
Eric Bearse, spokesperson for "The Response" prayer rally sought to assure those who may feel that the event is exclusionary.
“Anyone is invited to attend with regard to faith tradition, but if they want [to] observe a day of fasting and prayer in the comfort of their own home, or in their own houses of worship, they are encouraged to do so regardless of their faith tradition," Bearse told The Christian Post Wednesday.
"We will be praying for the entire country, and people of all faiths, lifting up America and asking God for His blessing and provision in our lives.”
What's more, some insist Perry could be setting a dangerous precedent if he actually intends to use the prayer rally to position himself for a run at the White House.
"Don't get confused; this isn't about me," Perry said during a public bill signing last week. "It's not about the people on the stage, either. This is truly about coming together as a state and lifting up this nation in prayer and having a day of prayer and fasting."
Just days before the Houston event, critics remain unconvinced, even if the governor's intentions are honorable.
He is still overstepping his bounds and violating the separation of church and state, they insist.
More than two dozen leaders from various religious and community groups in Texas joined the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in issuing a letter Tuesday about what they perceive as the governor's public endorsement of one religion over another.
"By his actions, Governor Perry is expressing an official message of endorsement of one faith over all others; thereby sending an official message of religious exclusion and preference to all Texans who do not share that faith," the ADL said in its letter.
"We believe our religious freedom is threatened when a government official promotes religion, especially one religion over all others," the letter continues.
The letter lists 50 supporters from various Jewish, Muslim, and Christian groups across different denominations.
The ADL does not express in its letter the desire for other faith groups to take part in "The Response: a Call to Prayer For a Nation in Crisis," only that Perry should keep his personal faith separate from his public office.
"We strongly believe this statement, signed by so many of our most respected religious and community leaders, reflects the feelings of many Texans who are concerned that Governor Perry is overstepping his bounds in supporting an exclusionary sectarian religious event," Martin B. Cominsky, ADL southwest regional director, said in a separate statement.
Don Byrd of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty is also no fan of Perry's prayer event and calls the August 6 rally "troubling."
Byrd claims Perry's attendance at "The Response" might "set a dangerous precedent" if the Texas governor is somehow using the prayer rally for political purposes.
"In America, it should not matter whether candidates for office pray or not, nor to whom they pray. Campaigns that are driven by religious showmanship set a dangerous precedent," Byrd said on the Baptist Joint Committee's website.
The Houston Clergy Alliance, an interfaith group of religious leaders that includes Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others, has also expressed concern with Perry's prayer rally not being an "inclusive" event.
"Houston has long been known as a 'live and let live' city, where all are respected and welcomed," the group said in a statement last month. "It troubles us that the governor’s prayer event is not open to everyone... We feel that such an exclusive event does not reflect the rich tapestry of our city."
Barry W. Lynn, a Christian minister and Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, penned a letter of concern to Perry, accusing the governor of overstepping his bounds.
"I am a Christian minister and would like to remind you that it is not the job of government officials to call people to pray, recommend that they fast or prod them to take part in other religious activities," Lynn said. "That job belongs to me and my fellow clergy."
"The Response: a Call to Prayer For a Nation in Crisis" was conceived out of Gov. Perry's call in June for fasting and prayer over what he saw as moral, economic, and social ills plaguing the nation.
Event organizers describe the prayer rally as "a non-denominational, apolitical Christian prayer meeting." The event sponsor is the American Family Association, a non-profit Christian organization.
According to "The Response" organizers, "people of all ages, races, backgrounds and Christian denominations will be in attendance [Saturday] to proclaim Jesus as Savior and pray for America."