Political Animal


December 09, 2011 12:35 PM So much for the ‘war on religion’

By Steve Benen

Rick Perry unveiled a rather ugly campaign ad this week, condemning gays for being able to “serve openly in the military,” and promising voters he’ll “end Obama’s war on religion.”

The Texas governor talked to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer this week, and to his credit, the host asked Perry to back up the language in the ad. (Ian Millhiser has the video)

PERRY: [W]e’ve got a federal judge for instance in San Antonio that said these kids couldn’t say an invocation in school. I mean, they say you can’t even use the word invocation at their commencement. I mean, that’s —

BLITZER: Is that President Obama’s war on religion?

PERRY: I’m just giving you suggestions after what we are seeing from the left of which I would suggest to you, President Obama is a member of the left and substantial left of center beliefs that you can’t even have a Christmas party. You can’t say a prayer at school.

I’m beginning to think Perry was not blessed with an overabundance of intelligence.

The Texas governor wants the public to believe the president has waged a “war on religion.” That’s a serious charge, and Perry backs it up with a series of arguments:

* A federal judge issued a ruling, which was overturned on appeal, on an invocation at a graduation ceremony. What does this have to do with Obama? Nothing. The judge wasn’t even an Obama nominee.

* The president has “substantial left of center beliefs.” What does this have to do with a “war on religion.” I haven’t the foggiest idea.

* “You can’t even have a Christmas party.” As far as I can tell, Christmas parties are still pretty common, and the White House hasn’t tried to stop them.

* “You can’t say a prayer at school.” Actually, you can. Perry just doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Voluntary prayer in public schools is already legal, and it always has been.

In other words, asked for evidence to support his allegations, Rick Perry has absolutely nothing.

And to think some find it hard to take him seriously.

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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  • ComradeAnon on December 09, 2011 12:37 PM:

    If Wolf presses back, then you gotta know the guest is an idiot.

  • RollaMo on December 09, 2011 12:40 PM:

    Rick Who?

  • @the_dan on December 09, 2011 12:40 PM:

    Tell the truth Steve, you are not just now coming to the conclusion that Perry isn't too bright.

  • Texas Aggie on December 09, 2011 12:42 PM:

    Cover story for Duh!! Magazine.

    "Iím beginning to think Perry was not blessed with an overabundance of intelligence."

    If a guy has a difficult time passing the courses in an animal science major at TAMU (Goodhair spent most of his career there on academic probation), he has labeled himself as not overly bright. But Molly said it best:

    ďIn Texas, we do not hold high expectations for the [governor's] office; it's mostly been occupied by crooks, dorks and the comatose.Ē (And Goodhair embodies all three.)

    "....our very own dreaded Legislature is almost upon us. Jan. 9 and they'll all be here, leaving many a village without its idiot,

  • stevio on December 09, 2011 12:43 PM:

    Maybe he's just the smartest person in Texas. I'll give him that...

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on December 09, 2011 12:44 PM:

    Well he certainly ain't the brightest bulb on the Christmas Tree!!!! LOL!!! Ho! Ho! Ho! I slay me...

    Merry Christmas, Folks! I am so feeling that holiday--ahem--Christmas Spirit!!

  • citizen_pain on December 09, 2011 12:45 PM:

    Rick Perry make George Bu$h look like a intellectual heavyweight.

    That's saying something

  • citizen_pain on December 09, 2011 12:46 PM:

    And my grammar on that last post didn't do me any favors either!!
    that would be MAKES and AN

  • c u n d gulag on December 09, 2011 12:52 PM:

    As long as there are tests, there will always be prayer in school.

    And I never knew that 'tough-talking cowboy' was the translation of the Yiddish, 'empty-headed yutz.'

  • TR on December 09, 2011 12:55 PM:

    "As far as I can tell, Christmas parties are still pretty common, and the White House hasnít tried to stop them."

    More than that -- Obama has been holding Christmas parties AT THE WHITE HOUSE.


  • CJColucci on December 09, 2011 12:56 PM:

    c u n d gulag:
    That's my line you sonofabitch. ("Smile when you say that.") Though my version is: there will be prayer in school as long as there is algebra.

  • DonBoy on December 09, 2011 12:58 PM:

    Hating to semi-defend him, but this is a transcript of a verbal exchange, and if you change one period to a comma, it is, at least, not a total fantasy:

    "President Obama is a member of the left and substantial left of center beliefs that you canít even have a Christmas party, you canít say a prayer at school."

    That is, you can't a have Christmas party, so-named, in (public) school. (Or at least, this is the position of plenty of people from the "separatation of church and state" side of the aisle.)

  • Mitch on December 09, 2011 12:59 PM:

    "Voluntary prayer in public schools is already legal, and it always has been."

    This statement of fact does not matter to religious zealots. It is not enough for voluntary religious behavior to be legal: religious behavior must be enforced (and forced).

    Take a school in my home county in KY. A few months ago the schoolboard announced that they were no longer have prayer over the loudspeakers at the start of football games. You can still pray for your team. The players themselves can still pray for whatever reason it is that athletes pray before games. The coach can no longer lead the team in prayer but the audience is to be given a moment of silence which they can use for personal prayer.

    Seems reasonable enough, right?

    Not by a long shot. The zealots complained and griped and insulted the school board. They could not stand for this "attack" on their religion. Eventually a student who gave the pregame announcement lead the audience in prayer at the start of a game against the mandate of the school board; guerilla worship, I guess.

    So she is now a local hero. The school board is "reconsidering" their decision due to the public backlash. And half of the county is up in arms over this "persecution" of Christianity. Nevermind that the entire school board is made up of Christians of good standing.

    I tried explaining this to my father, using the Personal Freedom argument. You are free to worship and pray however you want, whenever you want; but Consitutionally speaking the government does not have the right to sak anyone else to pray.

    "How would you feel," I asked him, "If Christian kids in a Jewish or Muslim majority community were forced to pray according to those beliefs?"

    His response, "We're a Christian nation. Christian prayer should be enforced. I don't even think non-Christians should be citizens."

    Mind you, my father is a kind, gentle, soft-spoken man. He is not racist or sexist or violent at all. But religious zealotry leads one to do all sorts of vile things.

    "With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil - that takes religion." - Steven Weinberg

  • c u n d gulag on December 09, 2011 1:02 PM:

    OH! That's where I heard it!


  • Blue Girl on December 09, 2011 1:03 PM:

    Years ago, I had a bumper sticker that said "As long as there are math tests, just try stopping prayer in schools."

  • Anonymous on December 09, 2011 1:06 PM:

    Perry needs to read his constitution before he complaining about his imaginary state religion of America.
    News organization like CNN should have been able to tell him off.
    but they wanted to let him embarrass himself, i guess.

    but allowing Perry to talk as if this was a legit issue would make enough naive people actually think it is.

  • Anonymous on December 09, 2011 1:11 PM:

    if Republicans want to keep America a christian majority country, they'd better be nice to catholic latinos. oh but they also want America to stay white dominant.
    ah, such a struggle!

  • jsjiowa on December 09, 2011 1:15 PM:

    Mitch, is there any religious diversity where your father lives? I live in Iowa. My kids have attended two different school districts, and in both they have been exposed to many other children of different faiths (I'm even thinking of one classroom holiday party where one girl proudly announced that she didn't celebrate Christmas, and she was very happy when I asked her if she had just celebrated Diwali [which one of the other parents looked puzzled about]; and one of my children's best friends one year taught the class about celebrating Eid.) The schools in our area have always been sensitive to this (and I just sent my oldest off to college this year).

    I realize Kentucky is in the Bible Belt, but do people just choose not to see that there are many people who do not practice Christianity?

  • jrosen on December 09, 2011 1:16 PM:

    One irony of this whole sorry imbroglio is that Christmas is a pagan holiday (do you think reindeer, Santa Claus, X-mas trees come from Roman Judea where the birth was supposed to take place?). It was cleverly co-opted from a pagan celebration of the return of the sun from its darkest day (Dec. 21st) --- as was so much of the Christian calendar and the roster of saints. The Puritans of new England understood this well when they made it a crime to celebrate Christmas. That was a real war!

    Anyway, the presiding deity over Christmas is obviously Mammon.

  • kevo on December 09, 2011 1:17 PM:

    In Perry's world Christianity and Liberalism are mutually exclusive! He is blind to liberal Christians, and Christian liberals as he can't wrap his peabrain around such phenomena.

    Wow, a dummy with money is truly dangerous to our way of life because he can use the money to put himself and his ignorance into the seat of power by hoodwinking unassuming Americans into voting for him and his buffoonery!

    2012 marks the year we will truly see just how ignorant Middle and Working Class voters are as they go to the polls and elect either a representative of the 1% under the Republican brand, or elect the patchwork of candidates who call themselves Democrat.

    I know the risk of having too many Democrats elected - incestrial polemics leading to mushy outcomes - yet such a reality is a much better alternative to the offering of Friendly Fascism offered by the Republican brand! -Kevo

  • jsjiowa on December 09, 2011 1:18 PM:

    As for Perry, it demonstrates the Texas saying that Texas is a "whole 'nother country". Obviously, what passes for leadership in Texas is different than the rest of the country (and I say that, too, with the experience of having lived in Texas for several years in the 90's).

  • Mitch on December 09, 2011 1:19 PM:


    "... they'd better be nice to catholic latinos."

    Many Fundamentalists do not think of Catholics as Christians at all. I was raised a Baptist, and taught that Catholics are heretics. There's even a strong school of thought that teaches the Anti-Christ will be a Pope, with Bible verses that they use to back up their claim.

    One thing you gotta say about Zealots, they love fighting each other as much as they love to fight heretics.

  • Texas Aggie on December 09, 2011 1:23 PM:

    Mitch, ask your father how he feels about Francisco Franco, the former Fascist dictator in Spain, sending out the gendarmes to force everyone including tourists off the beaches and into the cathedrals to celebrate mass on Sundays. I'm not sure that there is a whole lot of difference between the attitude of our fundamentalists and Franco's attitude.

  • Anonymous on December 09, 2011 1:28 PM:

    Just in case this is challenged, here is a source:

    "For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county."

    From the records of the General Court,
    Massachusetts Bay Colony
    May 11, 1659 (NB, this was the legislature...it still goes by that name today)

    Quoted in the Massachusetts Travel Journal.

    And 5 shillings was a goodly amount of money then.

    Does Billo know about this?

  • jsjiowa on December 09, 2011 1:31 PM:

    One other thing about Perry's ad campaign: there is a very strong anti-gay sentiment among the Republican base here. The state GOP was heavily involved in sponsoring rallying to support the ouster (on a retention vote) of 3 state Supreme Court Justices who were part of the unanimous decision supporting marriage equality. The state legislature has been a hotbed of controversy for proposal such as a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage (which keeps getting blocked), and legislation that would allow county recorders to refuse to issue marriage licenses if their religious beliefs don't support marriage equality, and other types of "conscience" exceptions (none of which have passed so far). Perry is trying to tap into that same vein, but he's competing for that vote with Bachmann and Santorum, and no one is winning.

    Meanwhile, moderate sane Republicans (like my husband and others we know) are tuning all of it out and are planning to skip the caucus in January, for lack of a sane alternative to vote for.

  • Mitch on December 09, 2011 1:31 PM:


    There seems to be diversity in my old Kentucky home, on first glance. There is a Catholic church, a Jehovah Witness Kingdom Hall, even a Mormon church in the next town over; and many different denominations of Protestant Christianity (Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, various Pentacostal denominations and a slew of various breeds of Baptists - the majority by far).

    But non-Christians have no public face, and constitute only a handful of families. The two "Muslim" families and the single Hindu family that I know of are non-practicing more or less.

    I had a number of Mormon friends when I lived there, and they were routinely taunted by classmates and adults alike. During my high school days my worst enemy was the Tech Ed teacher, who also led the Christian "First Priority" club. He was not at all kind due to my outspoken agnosticism back then (I consider myself an atheist these days), and my family was on his side, not mine. Thankfully a few other teachers and the Vice-Principal helped me out a lot back then.

  • Josef K on December 09, 2011 1:40 PM:

    Does the State of Texas have some kind of death wish that it knowingly elected this man?

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on December 09, 2011 1:46 PM:

    I'm with jrosen, Christmas ain't exactly the most Christianist of Christian holidays. It's quite pagany (if that's a word), which is why--wait for it--even I love it so much!!! Hell, I probably love it more than most Christians, seeing as I'm in year-round Christmas mode, playing Christmas music in the heat of August. Rain drops on roses and whiskers on kittens, now those are MY favorite things! I'm more of Santa Clause, Charlie Brown, McCauley Caulkin, Rankin/Bass stop-motion celebrator, so I can't say that I care too much about the biblical Nativity story(that's the Christian part). You ain't got to be a Christian, per se, to enjoy non-Nativity Christmas, God knows I only set foot in church only when someone's dead (twice in the past 5 years).

    That's just my holiday public announcement... I'll go back to listening to Christmas music now...

  • Jon on December 09, 2011 2:13 PM:

    Perry perfectly represents his constituents. That's democracy for you. You don't have to be smart or virtuous to vote.

  • Old Uncle Dave on December 09, 2011 2:18 PM:

    If Obama is waging war on religion, he is failing miserably, but the christianists' war on intelligence seems to be succeeding within the GOP.

  • Anonymous on December 09, 2011 2:29 PM:

    "* The president has “substantial left of center beliefs.”

    That would be the hardest to prove.

  • Peter C on December 09, 2011 2:39 PM:

    The reason the Republicans think that there is a war between the government and fundamentalist Christianity is because they've been waging one for the past 30-plus years. Our government has not been fighting back; it continually turns the other cheek. Never the less, the war has been raging and the casualties (civility, effectiveness, honest debate) have been heavy. The war is no less real for being utterly one-sided.

  • I never post on December 09, 2011 4:00 PM:

    This is why speaking in actual sentences matters:

    "what we are seeing from the left of which I would suggest to you, President Obama is a member of the left and substantial left of center beliefs that you can’t even have a Christmas party"

    This makes no sense at all. "Of which" - of the left? "President Obama is a member of the left" - he is a member of the left of the left? "And substantial left of center beliefs" - Obama is a member of left of center beliefs? No; there is no way to read this except to add the words Perry left out:

    he [allegedly] HOLDS left of center beliefs INCLUDING THE IDEA THAT you can't have a Christmas party.

    But even Perry wouldn't be stupid enough to say this outright. Instead he holds words up next to each other hoping to affect his listeners. Insist on a verb, people.

  • Grammy Pat on December 09, 2011 6:23 PM:

    There seem to be several restrictions on traditional school Christmas parties in my area (NJ), none of which have to do with a "war on religion". They are 1) Jehovah's Witness parents who do not want their kids participating in anything to do with Christmas (they, and other evangelicals, also go bonkers over Halloween parties) I have seen them show up at school to take their kids home before the parties. And 2) there are so many people now who are just whacko about their children's food allergies that it is impossible to send treats in to school, even for birthdays. And 3) with some parents it is not food allergies but just freaking out over red food coloring and so on. Our local DQ will not even send in ice cream cakes any more because they are required to label them with every minute substance in every icing color on the cake if it is going to a school. As a result, the whole classroom party thing has gotten really subdued. But it sure does not have anything to do with a war on religion, it's more individual parents taking an attitude of my way or else. While I can sympathize with people whose kids have food allergies, there is such a thing as common sense. Our local school sent out a memo in September saying that if children ate anything with peanuts for breakfast they should wash their hands with soap for two minutes before coming to school. We are also not allowed to send any peanut items in for a snack outside of the cafeteria area. That is ridiculous, and I am pretty sure some hyper mother was behind it. With stuff like this going on, it is almost not worth the bother to try to have school parties.

  • Shantyhag on December 09, 2011 7:07 PM:

    As the late, great and dearly missed Miss Molly Ivins might have said "Rick Perry was blessed with an overabundance of hair."

  • Clint Shepherd on December 10, 2011 3:27 AM:


    Due to nothing other than my living in Texas, I feel compelled to take issue with your comment claiming that Perry's views "perfectly represent his constituents."

    Not only are many people in Texas ashamed of the image that Perry has portrayed, just as many also question the legitimacy of his election to an unprecedented third term as Governor.

  • JDE on December 10, 2011 3:30 AM:

    "I'm beginning to think Perry was not blessed with an overabundance of intelligence."

    That has never been a requirement for governing the great state of Texas.

    A friend who is an escapee from Texas emailed me the following a couple of years ago:

    "The state's always had its fill of idiots, but I've never seen a time when so many have overrun public discourse and set policy. There's been a long history of electing clods like G.W.Bush to high office (and usually, they stay contained in Texas, but look what happened!) but I've never seen so many in office across all different levels of governmental, educational (shudder) and even cultural organizations.

    Somebody must have spiked the water supply with a special kind of dumbass fluoride."

  • bruthmarilynn on December 19, 2011 8:43 AM:

  • Zelamara on January 18, 2012 5:08 AM: