When the Texas Legislature opened this year’s legislative session in January the Republican-controlled House, Senate and our closetted Republican Governor proclaimed that this would be the session in which they would deal with two major problems: public school finance and propert taxes.
They achieved absolutely nothing on both issues, but they did manage to tighten restrictions on abortion and send to voters a consitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage (and according to some readings common law marriage between heterosexuals). Yesterday Governor Goodhair signed both the abortion legislation and the constitutional referenda (even though his signature on the referenda is meaningless) in an Evangelical Christian school.
Making good on a Republican campaign call to celebrate with “Christian friends,” Gov. Rick Perry traveled to an evangelical school here on Sunday to put his signature on measures to restrict abortion and prohibit same-sex marriage.
About 100 protesters lined the street outside the school, Calvary Christian Academy, denouncing the unusual signing as breaching the constitutional separation between church and state.
Mr. Perry, who may face a tough primary challenge next year, described the event as “pro-family, pro-life” and nonpartisan. On a dais before a cheering crowd of close to 1,000 churchgoers and leaders of evangelical ministries, he signed a bill passed during this session of the Texas Legislature requiring girls under 18 to obtain their parents’ consent before having an abortion. Previously, they needed only to notify their parents.
“We may be on the grounds of a Christian church, but we all believe in standing up for the unborn,” Mr. Perry said.
He also said he was putting his signature – although it was not required – on a measure that places a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages before Texas voters on Nov. 8. “Activist judges have used the bench to advance a narrow agenda,” the governor said, adding that the measure defining marriage as a sacred bond between a man and a woman “places it beyond the reach of activist judges.”
The event caused a stir last week after The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported on plans for it. The Perry campaign later released the text of an e-mail message sent to religious groups. It said in part, “We want to completely fill this location with pro-family Christian friends who can celebrate with us.”
It continued: “We really need for you to help us turn out a very large crowd. We may also film part of this to be used later for TV.”
Luis Saenz, Mr. Perry’s campaign director, said the filming plan was dropped “a long time ago.”
The event was denounced last week by a religious liberty watchdog group in Washington, Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Its executive director, Barry W. Lynn, wrote Mr. Perry asking him to call the event off, saying it “has the appearance of a campaign rally” and was putting the tax-exempt status of Calvary Christian Academy at risk.
Several professors at Southern Methodist University in Dallas denounced the planned event as rare, if not unprecedented, by a Texas governor.
The Rev. Robin Lovin, a Methodist minister and an S.M.U. professor holding the Maguire Chair in Ethics, said, “There are lots of reasons to go to church on Sunday, but making laws isn’t one of them.”
Signing a bill into law in a church, he added, “is a pretty clear symbol that the church is at the service of the state or the state is at the service of the church and either way we’ve crossed an important line that has a long history in both politics and theology.”
Protesters outside the suburban church grounds carried signs reading “Jesus Was a Liberal,” “The Soul Has No Gender” and “Hey, Rick, It’s Education, Stupid” – a reference to the failure to pass a crucial education financing bill in Austin.
Pastor Lawrence White of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Houston said churches had long played major roles in American political life, as meeting houses during the Revolution and sanctuaries during the civil rights era. “Everything of significance in the United States of America began in her churches,” he said to ringing cheers and applause.
“This is not about candidates and politics, Republicans and Democrats,” he added. “This is about life.”
He continued, “When the governor of Texas will stand for life and marriage and family, then we will stand with him.”
But nobody mentioned Texas’ position as the state with the most executions.