Political Animal


December 09, 2011 3:45 PM Another Perry flub: 8 Supreme Court justices?

By Steve Benen

It’s generally not too much to ask that major party presidential candidates know how many Supreme Court justices there are. Alas, Rick Perry, who’s already struggled to be coherent on a wide range of issues, flubbed this one, too.

After trying to argue that private schools should legally able to promote religion — they already can — the oft-confused Texas governor made the case for state-sponsored religion in public schools. Here’s the quote for those who can’t watch clips from your work computers:

“The independent school boards that oversee those [public schools] should make the decisions, not the government. Again, 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, 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. I trust the people of the states to make those decisions. I trust those independent school districts to make those decisions better than eight unelected and frankly unaccountable judges.”

Let’s count the errors of fact and judgment, because this a doozy.

1. There are nine Supreme Court justices, not eight.

2. When public school boards make policy decisions affecting public schools, that is “the government.” It may not be the federal government, but Perry is still calling for government officials — rather than families — to intervene in the religious upbringing of children.

3. Playing tic-tac-toe is very hard for one person to do by himself or herself.

4. In the United States, we don’t make decisions about religious liberty based on majority rule or popularity contests. Here’s a question for Perry to ponder: if an evangelical Christian family sent their daughter to a public school in predominantly Muslim neighborhood, would Perry want her to sit in a corner playing tic-tac-toe while the rest of the class prayed towards Mecca, or would he want the public school to remain religiously neutral?

In the same interview, Perry proceeded to forget Justice Sotomayor’s name.

I’d swear this guy is getting dumber as the campaign progresses.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Danton on December 09, 2011 3:49 PM:

    Not too bright, is he?

  • Matt on December 09, 2011 3:50 PM:

    I'd say he was just counting Scalia as the right kind of judge, but that wouldn't explain why he didn't also count Thomas, whose vote Scalia casts.

  • Josef K on December 09, 2011 3:52 PM:

    Id swear this guy is getting dumber as the campaign progresses.

    And to think, before this election cycle the bottom-line example of political ignorance was a toss-up between GWB and Dan Quail. Now we have the entire Republican slate of candidates vying for spot.

    It'd be laughable if only the Republicans weren't in a position to do so much damage.

  • Texas Aggie on December 09, 2011 3:57 PM:

    Once more. Molly:

    In Texas, we do not hold high expectations for the [governor's] office; it's mostly been occupied by crooks, dorks and the comatose.

  • JM917 on December 09, 2011 3:58 PM:

    Getting dumber...or getting drunker? Or more spaced out on whatever drugs he takesIssued pa?

  • Hedda Peraz on December 09, 2011 4:01 PM:

    It can now be revealed that our Governor is a stealth candidate funded by The Onion.

  • Countme - In on December 09, 2011 4:01 PM:

    "3. Playing tic-tac-toe is very hard for one person to do by himself or herself."

    They'd be playing with the Devil, don't you know?

  • Mitch on December 09, 2011 4:08 PM:

    In regards to objection #4, Steve, please bear in mind that to many Christian Fundamentalists non-Christians should not have any right to public worship at all.

    Subjective, logical and ethically fair principles do not matter at all to many people of faith, regardless of what that faith is. Belief trumps reason and compassion 100% of the time for many people of faith, and it has been like this for the bulk of human history.

    At best many Fundies will say that non-Christians should keep their beliefs and worship private; at worst they will say that non-Christians should not be American citizens, and have no right to their beliefs. To these people a Muslim-majority school district should abide by the standards of the "Christian" nation (local rights only matter to the GOP when they are fighting the Dems, otherwise to hell with them) and keep Allah out of school.

    Millions feel this way.

    Christian Fundies are not much better than Muslim Fanatics in the Middle East. Christians in America are not usually violent, to their credit. But that is more the result of Western society's respect for life, and America's rule of law. It would not take much to bring back Inquisitions, witch trials and Crusades, from what I know of human nature.

    Theocracy is one of the greatest enemies of human freedom; it's only competitor is political extremism (i.e. Stalin & Mao). And when Theocratic and Political ideologues are on the same team, well, that's the kind of thing that causes Dark Ages and the collapse of civilizations.

    That also pretty well sums up the kind of politics Mr. Perry represents.

  • martin on December 09, 2011 4:09 PM:

    Echoing JM917, he sounds drunk or stoned. He ever slurs "Jewish School", though maybe he was trying to say schul.

    captcha calls this Stateman's qusian

  • xpatriate on December 09, 2011 4:12 PM:

    Yeah, I'll bet his pals in the Texas "aall bidnz" are trying to figure out how in the heck they're going to
    write off all the $$$$ they gave this dummy.

  • Crissa on December 09, 2011 4:13 PM:

    When was the last 8 to one decision? Was there one on intrusive religion?

  • Ted Lehmann on December 09, 2011 4:19 PM:

    It remains true that no one is stopping anyone from quietly saying a prayer. I bet God will hear it if there's a God to hear. Jesus told us to (paraphrase) "Go into the closet and pray." By this he meant, I think, that prayer was a private and individual moment not necessary for any other human to hear and certainly not to be coerced.

  • BGinCHI on December 09, 2011 4:20 PM:

    I bet he know how many maids a milking there are.

  • emjayay on December 09, 2011 4:26 PM:

    He didn't say "sit over there". He said "set over there".

  • Jim Pharo on December 09, 2011 4:28 PM:

    When did praying in public schools become illegal?

    I think this guy pretty obviously has a substance abuse problem...

  • gelfling545 on December 09, 2011 4:33 PM:

    Dear Mr. Perry
    Let me state this as simply as possible. There are places that hold public prayer events for those of the Christian persuasion. They are called "churches". We don't expect them to teach geography, English grammar or math , although I understand that some of them dabble in science.
    The places commonly called "public schools", on the other hand, are required to instruct and evaluate students in the subjects mentioned above. There is really no reason for either to try to duplicate each others' efforts.
    Further, there is probably a time and place appropriate to tic tac toe but I doubt that is is either of the above.

  • schtick on December 09, 2011 4:35 PM:

    Ok so the truth comes out, he's the missing twin of Dubya.

  • Mitch on December 09, 2011 4:38 PM:

    @Jim Pharo

    Fundies think that SCHOOL SPONSORED Christian worship should be not only allowed, but also enforced.

    Google the following: "Bell County, KY + football + prayer"

    Read any of the articles that you find, moreover, read the COMMENTS to the articles. That should inform you exactly what kind of person Mr. Perry is trying to reach. And there are millions and millions of that kind of person.

    When facism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. - Sinclair Lewis

    That pretty much sums up a sizeable percentage of the American population, including many of my oldest friends and entire family.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on December 09, 2011 4:45 PM:

    I find it hilarious this is the dolt that George Will is attempting the wingnut faithful to take a second look at. (His wife is a Perry advisor.)

    Check it out:

  • Carl on December 09, 2011 5:18 PM:

    @Crissa is on the right track.

    Perhaps Perry was merely confusing Abington School District v. Schempp (decided 8-1 and prohibiting school-sponsored Bible readings in public schools) with Engel v. Vitale (decided 6-1 and prohibited the forced recitation of government-written prayers in public schools).

    In that case, he meant "six unelected and frankly unaccountable judges.

  • Karhryn on December 09, 2011 5:33 PM:

    Condolences Mitch, absolutely no snark intended. Positively gobsmacked that George Will's wife is a Perry advisor, don't believe that will enhance anybody's resume. Perry's breathtaking ignorance is beyond anything I can fathom in someone running for the Presidency of the United States, it's frightening actually. He is every bit as ignorant as Herman Cain and Texans elected him four times, I believe. George W. Bush was a scholar compared to this person and we know how not true that is.

  • g on December 09, 2011 6:08 PM:

    I think President Obama should come out in favor of school prayer. Then all the Republicans will come out against.

  • bigtuna on December 09, 2011 6:09 PM:

    So... I recall that a pretty key SCOTUS case ruled on this - FROM A CASE FROM TEXAS - Santa Fe Independant District v. Doe, - it was a case in which LDS and Catholic families in Texas brought suit for school sanctioned prayer - I think in football games, because the dominantly Baptist nature of the prayer over the loudspeaker systems amounted to establishment of a type of prarey, and thus, of a specific denomination. And, the families won.

    It is, to me, a classic case as to why we should not have religion in public schools.

  • mellowjohn on December 09, 2011 6:18 PM:

    "Id swear this guy is getting dumber as the campaign progresses."
    i'm a little late to the party, but having read a lot of molly ivins i'm pretty sure he's always been that dumb.

  • Tanstaafl on December 09, 2011 6:20 PM:

    Students absolutely have the right, in all public schools, to start their days with an inclusive observation of any religious faith they wish. School's can even allow a time and place for observations.

    However, what is prohibited is that a public institution lead these observations. Neither the school or it's staff can participate as the are public servants.

    Students must lead any group activities. Also, all such activities are inclusive, meaning the students must congregate in such a way that non-observing students are not displaced from normal school activities.

    So the tic-tac-toe kid can stay at his desk while the evangelicals practice elsewhere. We did this often at my high school; students would go outside and pray at the flag pole. My school practiced a daily moment of silence that any student could choose to use for personal prayer.

    If Perry's kids can't find a way to pray at school, it says more about a lack of parenting skills.

  • MSM on December 09, 2011 6:21 PM:

    My freshmen political science students at a small state university in Texas saw nothing wrong with school prayer and Bible reading, until I suggested that, if they ever lived in Utah, they would probably be reading the Book of Mormon, and in Rhode Island they could be saying the Hail Mary. Suddenly they realized that what they wanted was their own religion (usually Southern Baptist, Assembly of God or Church of Christ) and that freedom from religion might be better than having to submit to someone else's religion.

  • exlibra on December 09, 2011 6:22 PM:

    gelfling545, @4:33 PM

    Your letter to Perry reminds me of a bumper sticker I once saw around here: Don't pray in my school, and I promise not to think in your church.

  • Gretchen on December 09, 2011 8:57 PM:

    Thank you, MSM. I've always wondered what would happen if the children of the prayer-in-school folks found that their children were being taught to pray the rosary in public school.

  • lawnerd on December 10, 2011 3:27 AM:

    Technically, Perry is correct. There are eight Associate Justices of the Supreme Court. John Roberts is the Chief Justice of the United States.

  • bearsense on December 10, 2011 11:28 AM:

    Now you're beginning to see why the late Molly Ivins always referred to dubya as "the smart one."

  • rishdave3 on December 10, 2011 5:31 PM:

    You darn Yankees...Jimmy Dick can only count up to 8, since in the Lone Star State...Thumbs do not count as fingers.

  • James M. Martin on December 10, 2011 6:19 PM:

    A friend of Rick's told "Vanity Fair" that the politician was not dumb, just undereducated. And how! The reason he refused to debate his last Dem challenger is that he preferred some suspecting he was stupid to having most of us realize he is an imbecile. It doesn't help matters that he is living in an alternative universe: the aliens among us who think the Second Coming is nigh and it is their sacred duty to exacerbate ongoing tensions among Palestinians and Jews, important to bringing about Dominion and the Rapture. How can one argue with such inanity, based as it is on dogma that is just as misguided as its Islamic equivalent?