Intolerant or Just Plain Ignorant?

A new gaffe-filled video of Rick Perry is making the rounds, this one from his editorial board interview with the Des Moines Register on Friday (video from Think Progress):


Think Progress immediately zeroed in on Perry’s reference to “eight unelected” judges on the Supreme Court. (The court has nine justices.) But it fails to mention his arguably more disturbing trampling of the Constitution and First Amendment. Referring to prayer in public schools, Perry says:

The independent school boards that oversee those should make those decision [sic], not government. Again, I mean the idea that we have to be so politically correct that there’s one family that says, listen, I don’t want my child — then that child ought to have the freedom to be, um, you know, can sit over there and play tic-tac-toe or what have you. But the issue is that for Washington to tell a local school district that you cannot have a prayer, and a time of prayer in that school, I think is offensive to most Americans.

Wow. There’s a lot of muddled thinking to unpack here.

First, Perry doesn’t seem to understand that local school boards ARE government. In Texas school boards are  made up of elected politicians who make all manner of policy decisions. If that’s not government, I don’t know what is. (They even set tax rates!)

Second, he’s basically saying here that these politicians should be able to compel students — in the captive environment of a classroom — to sit and listen to a sectarian prayer led by a teacher, principal or other authority figure. And the casual way he so dismissively adds that students who object can “play tic-tac-toe or what have you” shows how little he cares about the rights of families who don’t share the majority faith in their community.

Even more than his intolerant campaign ad earlier this week, this clip provides a window into where the governor stands on the issue of religious freedom — at least when it comes to Americans who don’t adhere to his brand of Christian faith. The question is: does this reflect some sort of cynical pandering to his conservative religious base, or a deep ignorance about the Constitution and First Amendment?

I’m not sure which explanation is more frightening.

28 thoughts on “Intolerant or Just Plain Ignorant?

  1. It’s important to remember that the whole “school prayer” issue came about during the cold war when the Birchers et al were identifying their fight against communism with their effort to force protestant theology on the rest of us.
    This whole battle grows out of that.
    To answer your question, Ryan, …it’s pandering.

  2. I still maintain that, in this part of the state, the simplest way to end the “school prayer controversy” is to mandate the plurality-preferred prayer throughout the schools for a week or two. Just a little of “Dios te salve, Maria, llena eres de gracia….” being repeated to Baptist mommies would have prayers over the PA dead in no time.

  3. Perry has no concept of standing in someone else’s shoes. He should read the story reported by a self-identified evangelical Christian on World Net Daily who experienced attending a football game in Hawaii where, to his great surprise, a Buddhist priest offered a pre-game invocation. He was extremely uncomfortable but upon reflection came to understand the whole point of separation of church and state. Perry is well advised to study that lesson.

  4. I think there is misunderstanding in Ryan’s & Keanus’s responses: Perry was speaking about it being wrong for Washington to decree what any state should do about prayer in the schools, AND there is no separation of church and state in the Constitution. Amendment #1 reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…..” The founding fathers did not want a national religion like England had. The Supreme Court is the culprit which has influenced our thinking on this matter, not the Constitution. They are WRONG! Ask the historian David Barton. People of great faith, mostly preachers, were the founding fathers, who started schools, churches, & the Constitution. Read history of that period.

  5. “does this reflect some sort of cynical pandering to his conservative religious base, or a deep ignorance about the Constitution and First Amendment?”

    In his case, probably both.

  6. Mimiluv: Hilarious post. You’re wasting your time. We’ve been over this time and time again.

    Here’s one of the places where the phrase separation of church and state comes from.

    “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”
    -letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT “The Complete Jefferson” by Saul K. Padover, pp 518-519

    We understand that the wording of the Constitution creates a separation not between “church and state” but between religion and state. We’re very aware of that here, trust me.
    David Barton is not a historian. He’s a fraud.
    Most of the prominent founding fathers were deists. Not Christians.

  7. Mimiluv, you’ve been reading too much Barton, who, by the way, is an evangelical minister, not an historian. He’s the one who’s got it all wrong, and so has Perry. Both are busily trying to reinvent both history and the Constitution to fit their biases and religious beliefs. Their claims have no historical support being built on out-of-context quotes or inventions out of whole cloth.

    SCOTUS has long interpreted “Congress shall…” in the context of the Bill of Rights as binding on all branches of government, national, state and local. Neither states nor local units of government, like counties, school boards and towns, may establish, promote, or support any religion. Such support must come from individuals without government support or constraint. The state, in all its branches, shall remain neutral with respect to faith based beliefs.

    And no, the Founding Fathers were not “…mostly preachers”. They were a mixed bag of Anglicans, Baptists, Congregationalists, deists, Dutch Reformed, Unitarians to be, and other faiths—but not preachers, ministers or priests of any kind. They looked at the horrors visited on Europe when governments tried to impose conformity in religion and vowed they’d not allow that to be replicated in the United States. In that the US has been spared outright religious war for the past 230+ years, we should be grateful for their foresight.

  8. Sorry, Mimiluv, but you have no idea what you are talking about. Second, who cares what the founding fathers thought about anything? 200+ years later they are irrelevant. We the people govern this nation, not some mythical “Washington.” Washington what, Mim? You mean our elected representatives? Those people? Hey, Mim, sorry to break the news but you are The People. Why don’t you get off your lazy ass and change the law, change the Constitution if you’re so passionate about it. Or do you feel better wallowing in your self-made persecution?

    Personally, I don’t give a rat’s ass what a slave-owning founding father thought about anything, except out of intellectual curiosity. I think the Constitution has held up quite well as a living document and I’m personally glad that I don’t live in a buckle-hat society that apparently appeals to Mim.

    As for Perry, he’s an idiot. He has demonstrated that he’s ignorant about history or US government, he’s inarticulate and he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He makes these “gaffes” because there’s no knowledge feeding his mouth. He just blabs country boy blabber. No, he doesn’t know school boards are government. No, he doesn’t know the difference between a student muttering a prayer before an exam and a school principal requiring students to listen to a prayer over the school PA system. Perry has only survived as governor because he keeps to himself and doesn’t have to think. I keep hoping that Perry will get better on the campaign trail but he simply doesn’t have the intellectual chops. Nice hair, though.

  9. The founding fathers being mostly knowledgeable Christians saw no need to have a separation clause in the Constitution as such had been addressed in their Judeao-Christian Bible 12th chapter Mark.

  10. The voters who elected Perry should be ashamed for having made Texas the laughingstock of the world. Texas is currently synonymous with ignorant, craven, and untrustworthy.
    Leo, many of the founding fathers were deists. If what you say is true, why is there a separation clause in the Constitution.
    It’s a simple matter of fact, and it was well discussed according to the historical documents of the time.

  11. Mimiluv I was not aware that most of our founding fathers were preachers. That’s exciting news! Can you name some of them please?

    Oh and correct me if I’m wrong about any of our 7 core founding fathers:

    George Washington: At most a check-in-the-box Christian. While president he attended church weekly because it was expected of him. He never took communion and usually snuck out early. His pastor in Philadelphia, William White, said “I never saw anything made me think Washington was a believer. He was not a preacher.

    Thomas Jefferson: Jefferson was Deist noted for his hatred of fundamentalist preachers. Jefferson was not a preacher himself.

    Ben Franklin: A self-described Deist. At one point in his life Franklin said “When I was 16 years old I was given a book explaining the evils of Deism. As I read the book I realized I indentifed much more with Deism than Christianity.” Franklin was not a preacher.

    John Adams: Despite claims to the contrary by David Barton, Adams was a Unitarian. This is a well documented fact. In case there is any doubt in a letter to Jefferson in 1817 Adams said “I am a Unitarian.” At any rate he was not a preacher.

    James Madison: Most likely an agnostic although he never stated as much. He was not a preacher.

    John Jay: The only fundamentalist Christian in the bunch. Noted for his burning hatred of Catholics. Not a preacher.

    Alexander Hamilton: The brilliant but much hated Hamilton’s only interest in religion, up until 1800, was how it could be used as a tool to manipulate voters (see Karl Rove.) During the 1800 presidential campaign he published numerous newspaper op-eds with hysterical screaming headlines decrying Jefferson as a godless atheist. After his son died in 1800 Hamilton found religion. But he was not a preacher.

    Mimiluv I think we gain insight to what our founders were thinking when we look at a particular episode that occured at the Constitutional Convention. One morning, in July of 1787, following a particularly difficult day Ben Frankin made a motion to start the session with a prayer. Roger Sherman of Connecticut seconded the motion. It was then met with a flurry of objections and the motion failed. Our founders, when writing the Constitution, were not interested in producing a religious document. Quite the contrary; the were products of the Enlightenment, and of course Enlightenment thinkers valued reason, logic and science and devalued religion. And if you examine the biggest influence on their political thinking – Sam Adams, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Dickenson, all the major thinkers of the day – each of them were profoundly influenced by the writings of John Locke. God did not figure heavily into the equation.

  12. Leo you are partially correct. When our founding fathers finished writing the Constitution in Philly there was no Bill of Rights. But then they had to go home and sell the Constitution to We The People. And We The People demanded a Bill of Rights, approval of the Constitution depended upon it.

    There is no ambiguity in the First Amendment – it specifically instructs Congress to stay out of the religion business. It was ALWAYS the intent of the founders to create a secular government.

  13. I have a tshirt with a Ben Franklin quote: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
    I agree with that.

  14. Why do people who are religious not have an open mind and are just plain ignorant or non-accepting of others?
    Why do people who are religious have a one-sided ignorant view? It would be nice if you could tell me your views on the three things?

    Thank You.

  15. Nice find on the t-shirt David, a welcome addition to any wardrobe. Franklin deserves to have beer named after him; put it in a side by side blind taste test with Samuel Adams. If Franklin Lager didn’t sell here at least it’d be a big hit in Paris. The French loved Franklin. He used to walk down the streets of Paris and women would see him, run over and give him a kiss. And that happened all the time. I’m sure he got really tired of it. Or not.

    If your ever in the mood for a bit of truly morbid and bizarre entertainment of the papal variety google Pope Stephen VI. That guy was way way out there.

  16. Stoneroy, my parents are openminded and non-judgmental. They follow the example and the words of Christ.
    Hypocrisy and judgmentalism are as ancient as human behavior itself. That’s a major focus of Christ’s teaching. The people you hear these days are prone to human fallibility, but they also buy into a political definition of Christianity that has been crafted by a fascist political cult and it’s demagogues. A major function of this type of belief is division, they want to divide people and turn one group against another so that they can gain power as a minority. There is a segment of society that is especially vulnerable to being used and manipulated in this way. That’s what we’re fighting.

  17. I live in Houston and I am still inspired by what Bill White did after Katrina when Houston was being inundated with busloads of evacuees from Louisiana. White mobilized services, canceled events in the Astro Dome and turned it into a huge shelter. He brought in food, water, clothing, job services and thousands of volunteers to take care of those families. It was very successful. And, you know, he didn’t form a committee to study the matter or appoint a blue ribbon panel of cronies to oversee the operation, he just did it.

    Imagine what the situation would have been like with Perry who is only known for cutting back on rural fire services during a drought (Oops!). Naw, there are guys like Perry who are all hat (or hair) and no cattle, and there are guys like Bill White who just quietly get things done.

  18. Stoneroy15 a couple things to consider:

    Several years ago Bishop John Sprong, a former mainline Anglican clergyman and harsh critic of the religious right, said that religious intolerance is a replacement for institutionalized racism. Sprong theorized that people of limited intelligence often have an inferiority complex. In order to feel good about themselves they need to feel superior to some other person or group. Since it’s no longer politically correct to demonize and disparage blacks they decided that gays were the next best thing. Sprong is perhaps somewhat correct in his thinking; Jerry Falwell really tapped into this vein, in fact he was a complete nobody until he started attacking gays from the pulpit. Falwell was a jackass to be sure but he wasn’t dumb. He saw his collection plate becoming more and more full every Sunday and he turned gay bashing into a huge enterprise.

    Another theory – I think perhaps Sarah Poser came up with this one but that may be incorrect – involves ex-burbs and mega-churches. Because the far suburbs of our big cities often feature a transitory population people don’t really develop strong friendships in the subdivisions and neighborhoods in which they live. And so the mega-church, a recent feature of many newer ex-burbs, becomes the single source of socialization. Many of these complexes are mall-like in that they include shops, restaurants, movie theaters, etc. All people have a need to fit in, a need to belong. And so when they hear a fundy preacher get up every Sunday and howl about the evil gays and the liberal lying media and the war on Christians and so on and so forth, and when hear those exact same sentiments echoed by their friends and acquaintances, then they start to spout the exact same thing. They may not actually believe it at first, they may just be tryin to fit in, but after numerous repetitions they actually do become true believers.

  19. JamesBreck: you might want to note that Jefferson was not merely a deist, but entirely materialist in his deism.

    I’d also suggest Mimiluv might learn something from reading what Madison (the “Godfather of the Bill of Rights”, who introduced the First Amendment to Congress) had to say on the topic of separation; in particular, his 1819-03-02 letter to Robert Walsh, 1822-07-10 letter to Edward Livingston, and the spring 1832 letter to Jasper Adams. It might also be of interest to review the Republican Party platform of 1892 and Democratic Party Platform of 1884; the concept of Separation of Church and State was once common currency to both parties, well before the post-WWII McCollum ruling. However, it seems unlikely Mimiluv will read those….

    And stoneroy15 might find the research of Bob Altemeyer on authoritarianism to be of interest.

  20. It is an extremely sad commentary about Perry and his knowledge of the Constitution and I can say this as I taught history and government in Texas. With his knowledge he would have done extremely poorly in my classes. Oh, wait a minute, he had trouble passing his basic classes at A & M! I would say he was one who either tried bluffing his way through his classes, or parrotted enough information to manage to pass a T/F and multiple guess test, and then get a D in the class.

    I was teaching in Texas in the 80’s and early 90’s and was actually appalled at the level of education in many of the schools. There were some excellent teachers but there were also many ‘homegrown good ole boys and girls’ who were not that good at teaching but we could not dump them because the administration would not listen nor would many of the principals.

    When it came time for ‘prayer’, I told the kids they could have 2 minutes of silence to PRAY, NAP, MEDITATE, or DAYDREAM but they would remain quiet. Several kids would ask if they could pray before a test and my answer was “To yourself, and if you didn’t study, God probably will chose to not help you:”. I had one student who tried to disrupt my class and I removed him as I had in that World History class Mormons, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, and others. We actually were to teach Comparative Religion in World History and World Geography; it was part of the curriculum, and the students were informed in no uncertain terms that we were studying other belief systems than they were familiar with and I expected them to learn the basics, that I did not expect them to be disruptive and rude and make remarks or they would be removed and receive a failing grade nor did I expect them to understand some things but to accept them as ways that people believed. A few fundamental and evangelicals started to run their mouths and a couple of my Hindu or Muslim kids asked them if they should make fun of Christianity. The point was taken and war was defused. Much of this has been taken out of the curriculum and requirements now, and the new ‘essential elements’ have been rewritten and skewed badly. I would be fired today.

    For those of you who would like to see how things are skewed, go to the Texas State Board of Education, check on the curriculum and find the course requirements or elements for History and Government..starting with 6th grade. They have rewritten Texas and US History.

  21. Abb3w it’s also worth noting that Samuel Adams was a very devout Christian yet also an advocate of religious freedom, something that didn’t sit well with many of the New England puritans. I love Sam Adams, he was unparalled in his revolutionary zeal. For 12 years (1762-1774) he basically woke up every morning and said “what can I do to stir the pot today?” He was a complete and total radical and it’s actually pretty amazing that he wasn’t carted off to England and put on trial for treason. And yet late in his political career, when he was governor of Mass., he refused to institute religious discrimination. Roger Sherman of Connecticut was also devoutly religious and conservative in his beliefs. But it was Sherman that engineered the Great Compromise, or the Connecticut Compromise if you prefer, at the Constitutional Convention. However “compromise” is not a word that exists in the vocabulary of religious conservatives today.