Intolerant or Just Plain Ignorant?

by Ryan

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):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_NWaRKUbpY&feature=player_embedded#at=37]

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.

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