On June 6th, 2011, Rick Perry announced an official Day of Fasting and Prayer for August 6th “for our Nation to seek God's guidance and wisdom in addressing the challenges that face our communities, states and nation”. This initiative has been called “The Response”
While The Texas governor insists that his call for prayer is non-denominational, in the official website http://www.theresponseusa.com he is quoted saying “Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy”.
The Texas Governor has participated in multiple non denominational Christian prayers over the years, so for him “non denominational” means indeed inclusive of all Christian denominations. He does in fact believe that this is a Christian Nation and has been quite outspoken about it.
While Republican objections to many of the policies of the current Administration should be considered part of the valid democratic process, whether we agree with them or not, limiting the definition of Nation to a single category of individuals and excluding a significant part of the citizens goes beyond the pale. Redefining America as a Christian Nation is a severe setback to the progress American society has made over the last century as an inclusive multicultural society; the kind of society that allowed Jewish life to flourish. Such a redefinition transforms Jews from a mainstream minority that is fully integrated in American society into a tolerated minority at best.
America is fighting Islamic extremism in the name of individual freedom and supporting those in the Arab world who would like to see a more open, secular society. Yet Governor Perry would like this country to follow the reverse path...something doesn't compute.
I believe in Democracy and I believe in respect for the wide ideological, cultural and religious diversity that Democracy allows. I believe in the right of Republicans to attack Democratic policies and in the right of Democrats to attack Republican policies. But what Governor Perry proposes crosses a line that goes beyond political differences and establishes different status for individuals based on their religious beliefs. As a society we looked at the wave of protests through Europe and the Arab world in the aftermath of the Danish Mohammed cartoons as alien to our values and very difficult to comprehend. How different is it really from redefining American identity as a religious Christian Identity? These days San Francisco is considering a ban on circumcision for males under 18...while it is very unlikely to pass, it worries me to think how that could change with a President who believes what Perry believes.
The separation of Church and State was established to ensure that the State would not interfere with the free exercise of religion, but also to ensure that the American polity would allow every citizen to participate fully in public life regardless of religious beliefs. American Democracy is the child of modernity, and modernity can be best defined as the separation between the private and public domains. Moses Mendelssohn expressed that idea in Jewish terms as “being a Jew at home and a German in the street”. Religious practice belongs in the personal, private domain. I would distrust any public official who openly mocks religious practice. There is a sense of right and wrong that could – and should – guide our elected officials in the performance of the duties of their public office, and most religions provide that kind of moral and ethical foundation. But allowing a particular set of religious beliefs to dominate the political process is excluding others and that runs counter to who we are as a society.
When growing up in Argentina, I remember an interview to a Jewish member of Congress in which the reporter ask him “How do you feel, as a Jew, to represent a Christian people?”. I chose to become an American because I value the inclusiveness of American society. I hope I don't have to live to regret my choice...