Rick Perry’s War on Religious Freedom

by Dan Quinn

Rick Perry is so determined to pander to religious-right voters in the Republican presidential primaries that he wants to gut the First Amendment, one of the most important protections for religious freedom in America. See the partial transcript below from Gov. Perry’s interview on Fox News Sunday this past weekend.

Let’s be clear: Gov. Perry is simply not telling the truth when he suggests that children can’t “pray in school any time that they would like.” They can and many do. What the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution bars is public schools sponsoring or encouraging prayer. That prohibition protects the right of families and congregations to direct the religious education of their children. It also protects the right of students to pray their own prayers based on their own religious beliefs, not the religious beliefs of the teacher or school administrators. In short, public schools may not decide whose religious beliefs to favor or disfavor.

But Gov. Perry wants a constitutional amendment sweeping away that fundamental protection. By arguing to overturn the 1962 Supreme Court decision barring school-sponsored (read: government-approved) prayer, he’s looking to gut the First Amendment. And that would threaten religious freedom for all Americans.

From the Fox News Sunday program:

WALLACE: Let me ask you, though, about the specific charge in that commercial. You say that gays can serve openly while children can’t pray in school. It was the Supreme Court back in 1962 that decided and it’s been upheld since then that children couldn’t pray in school. Barack Obama had nothing to do with that. And after repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” are you saying that anyone who supports “don’t ask, don’t tell” is anti-religious?

PERRY: Well, let me back up and say that I would support a constitutional amendment that would allow our children to pray in school any time that they would like. Right now, those activist judges like Sotomayor and Kagan that he put on the Supreme Court, they would continue to say that that is a decision that the Supreme Court should make. I happen to believe that that would be a local decision and that’s not the Supreme Court’s business to be telling Americans when and how they should pray.

On the issue of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” it was working. And for the commander-in-chief to use your military as a political tool while we are in combat in two different locations — at least two different locations around the world, in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think is just irresponsible. I am commander-of-chief of 20,000 plus thousand men and women. I served in the United States Air Force. I understand the issue. And I don’t think it’s one that the president of the United States and Congress for that matter should be forcing upon the men and women of the military. I think it was bad public policy and I would change it.

WALLACE: The only point I’d make about prayer in school, is that has continued under — the ban under Republican presidents as well as Democrats, including Reagan and both of the Bushes.

PERRY: I understand that. I’m just — I’m telling you what I believe, Chris. And I happen to believe that Americans don’t agree with that decision that was made in 1962. And that if we have a constitutional amendment election in this country, allowing our children to pray in school, I would suggest to you, will pass overwhelming. And I’ll support that. I will go across this country, as I’m promoting a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. I’ll work on a balanced — I should say, an amendment to allow our children to pray in school. I think Americans are greatly supportive of both of those issues.

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