Perry’s Political Theater

Rick Perry is no stranger to political theater. As a presidential candidate, Perry put on a public prayer rally called “The Response” in an effort to show just how gosh darn Christian he was – as if anyone would doubt the governor of Texas.

But according to Raw Story, he’s still trying to show us his bona fides.

During an announcement of the signing of the so-called “Merry Christmas Bill,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry and state Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) said Thursday that freedom from religion was not included in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“I’m proud we are standing up for religious freedom in our state,” Perry said. “Freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from religion.”

I don’t know if it’s Raw Story or Perry’s administration, but the press conference seems to boil down to that one line: Freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from religion.

“I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said the price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” Nichols remarked. “One of those freedoms is the freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and as the governor was saying the Constitution refers to the freedom of religion, not the freedom from religion.”

Catch phrases work best when you don’t overuse them. Anyway, what’s in the law that Perry is trumpeting? Here’s the core of H.B. 308:

(a) A school district educate students about the history of traditional winter celebrations, and allow students and district staff to offer traditional greetings regarding the celebrations, including:
(1) “Merry Christmas”;
(2) “Happy Hanukkah”; and
(3) “happy holidays.”
(b) Except as provided by Subsection (c), a school district may display on school property scenes or symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations, including a menorah or a Christmas image such as a nativity scene or Christmas tree, if the display includes a scene or symbol of:
(1) more than one religion; or
(2) one religion and at least one secular scene or symbol.
(c) A display relating to a traditional winter celebration may not include a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief.

This is not particularly controversial. It’s basically what the civil libertarians have been advocating for decades: the government, including the schools, cannot promote any religion, even when it is the religion of the majority. However, space can be set aside for religious expression so long as all religions and secular institutions can take part.

So what was all that chest thumping about?

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    Reporting on this signing hasn’t emphasized Perry’s claim that there is no freedom from religion in the US. And that’s bothersome. Taken to its logical conclusion, Perry is saying that non-belief can be made illegal. I for one would love to find out all of the following:

    1. Which religions does he think count as religions that Americans can belong to? Does he think things like Neopaganism, Universalism, or Wicca (among others) count?

    2. How does he intend to enforce a law mandating that all Americans belong to a religion? What, exactly, would demonstrate that? Is it church/temple/grove/coven attendance? What other metric might he use?

    3. What kind of punishment would he mete out to us insolent non-believers?

    Perry’s claim that there’s no freedom from religion is downright frightening. It deserves and needs much more attention. Yes, I get that he’s a vicious Christofascist crank, and the mass media likely doesn’t think he’s serious about that … but the fact is that there are a lot of Americans who think that way, even if Perry isn’t entirely serious.

  • evodevo

    They’re just hoping the fundie wingers don’t actually READ the bill, but just repeat the talking point. Can’t wait to see the reaction when little Krishnarama insists on having Ganesh represented in the Nativity scene ….

    • ORAXX

      In any event, it’s all about the pander where Rick Perry is concerned. When he is done protecting the oil and gas industry, he works at getting conservative Christians to vote against their overall self interest.

  • Rain

    So what was all that chest thumping about?

    Yeah, if anything he was “caving in to the ACLU” (to put it in melodramatic political-speak chest thumping terms.) Gotta give him credit for putting polish on a you-know-what, I guess.

  • ORAXX

    The idea there is no freedom ‘from’ religion is a deeply cherished and, often repeated canard of the fundamentalist Christian. It is also an idea with no basis in either the constitution or case law. An American cannot be compelled to join, attend, or support financially, any church and, the constitution expressly forbids a religious test for holding public office. This sure sounds like freedom ‘from’ religion to me. Fundamentalist Christians cling to the delusion the constitution, somehow, gives them the right to force their views on others any time and any place, they want.

  • revyloution

    This bill really bothers me. If you think it’s fairly innocuous because of the inclusion of ‘happy holidays’, but this part has one disturbing section

    (b) Except as provided by Subsection (c), a school district may display on school property scenes or symbols associated with traditional winter celebrations, including a menorah or a Christmas image such as a nativity scene or Christmas tree, if the display includes a scene or symbol of:
    (1) more than one religion; or
    (2) one religion and at least one secular scene or symbol.

    Section b 2, ‘ one religion and at least one secular scene or symbol’. To me, that reads ‘Put up your manger scene, and make sure Santa Clause is standing next to it’


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