In August 2011, less than a week before launching a presidential campaign, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) partnered with a series of religious right groups to host a big prayer rally in Houston. It was called, simply, “The Response.”
The event’s website said at the time that “The Response” has adopted the American Family Association statement of faith, “including the infallibility of the Bible, the centrality of Jesus Christ, and the eternal damnation that awaits nonbelievers.” Organizers said non-Christians were welcome – in the hopes that they would be convinced to convert to Christianity.
The event, like Perry’s presidential campaign, proved to be underwhelming. But more than three years later, “The Response” is ready for yet another massive prayer rally, hosted once again by a far-right governor with national aspirations.
Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday defended his role as headline speaker at a prayer rally on Louisiana State University’s campus next month that has drawn the ire of protesters who say the group hosting the event promotes discrimination and an anti-gay agenda.The Jan. 24 prayer rally is expected to draw thousands of people to LSU’s campus for what Jindal, a Roman Catholic, describes in an invitation as “a time of worship, prayer, fasting and repentance.”
“Let’s be clear about what this is. This is an opportunity for people across denominational lines to come together to pray,” Jindal told reporters this week. “It’s not a political event, it’s a religious event.”
Asked if he agrees with the agenda espoused by the American Family Association, an extremist group that’s helping organize the event, the governor told reporters, “The left likes to try to divide and attack Christians.”
First, that’s ridiculously wrong. And second, notice how Jindal didn’t answer the question.
There’s no shortage of interesting angles to this. For example, more than a few folks at LSU, students and faculty alike, don’t want their university connected in any way to an event organized by religious radicals eager to use their campus.
What’s more, folks like my friends at Americans United for Separation of Church and State have questioned the propriety of a governor using his office to help proselytize.
Indeed, I realize Jindal is eager to curry favor with the religious right movement in advance of a likely 2016 presidential campaign, but his willingness to partner with these particular social conservatives may pose a bigger problem than the Republican realizes. Right Wing Watch noted this week, for example, that “The Response” organizers reused materials from their 2011 event, and released a prayer guide for the 2015 event that blames gays and abortion for natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.
Blaming Hurricane Katrina on gay people and abortion, it turns out, didn’t go over so well in the state that was hardest hit by the 2005 storm, and after reporters in Louisiana started asking the organizers and Jindal’s office about the prayer guide, it was scrubbed from the rally’s website.But disappearing one document can only do so much to hide the fact that Jindal is partnering with some pretty extreme organizations to put on his “The Response” event. In fact, the offending document was replaced on the event’s website by a letter from organizer Doug Stringer which only slightly more vaguely blames “earthquakes, floods, fires, and an escalation of natural disasters across the country and the world” on “the continued moral failures of our leaders.”
The AFA’s Bryan Fischer, the notorious right-wing spokesperson for the group, told local media that his organization stands by the original prayer-guide content. “We do know that natural disasters can be a form of God’s judgment on an unrepentant nation,” Fischer told the Times-Picayune.
Jindal is making some interesting friends in advance of his national campaign, isn’t he?