Evidently Rick Perry is a Christian. But does he have to make such a big deal out of it?
"As a nation," the governor of my state declared when he announced the prayer rally that attracted more than 30,000 people to Houston's Reliant Stadium on Saturday, "we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy." My response to The Response: No, thanks. My people have managed without Jesus for thousands of years. Why start now?
In truth, however, I was not terribly insulted at being excluded from Perry's giant church service. Even if I drove on Saturdays, I would not have been thrilled by the idea of a four-hour trip to Houston for seven hours of hymns, prayer, fasting and repentance. I get enough of that on Yom Kippur.
I was much more offended by the alacrity with which Perry, who is expected to announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination next Saturday, abandoned his avowed federalist principles to embrace the legislative agenda of the Christian right. It took less than a week.
"Our friends in New York," Perry told GOP donors in Aspen on July 22, "passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That's New York, and that's their business, and that's fine with me. That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business."
It soon became clear that Perry, who wrote a book championing federalism, does not really believe in the 10th Amendment. In a July 28 interview, he assured Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, that he supports amending the Constitution to declare that "marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman." So much for letting states define marriage as they see fit.
Perry did a similar about-face on abortion. On July 27, he told reporters in Houston he favors overturning Roe v. Wade, which would leave states free to set their own policies in this area. "You either have to believe in the 10th Amendment or you don't," he said. "You can't believe in the 10th Amendment for a few issues and then (for) something that doesn't suit you say, 'We'd rather not have states decide that.'"
Two days later, Perry's spokeswoman told The Houston Chronicle he "would support amending the U.S. Constitution ... to protect innocent life." Most versions of the Human Life Amendment would ban abortion throughout the country, even in states that want to keep it legal.
After Saturday's rally, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, which sponsored the event, enthused that "the governor is a staunch social conservative, believing in both the sanctity of life and marriage not just as personal principles but as principles of public policy." The evidence: "He supports federal amendments to protect both the unborn and man-woman marriage."
Fischer and Perry seem to have similar ideas about constitutional fidelity. Fischer supports the First Amendment except when it comes to non-Christians, while Perry supports the 10th Amendment except when it comes to marriage and abortion.
Other exceptions may emerge as the presidential race proceeds. As much as I'd love to see the Republican nominee attack Barack Obama for interfering with state decisions regarding medical marijuana (which Perry also says are protected by the 10th Amendment), I don't think it's going to happen.
Perry insisted his prayer rally was apolitical, allowing that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. But the Republican primary voters who are attracted by his conspicuous Christianity will expect him to translate his religious beliefs into government policy. Those of us who would not welcome a centrally imposed, religiously inspired moral agenda can only hope Perry's promises on that score will turn out to be just as empty as his commitment to state sovereignty.
Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine. To find out more about Jacob Sullum and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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