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America is a religious nation. Polls may differ, but most find that over 80 percent of Americans say they believe in God. Fifty percent also say they go to church on Sunday, while only half of those actually do. I guess this shows that we want to look better than we actually are, at least to the public -- if not to God, who presumably knows what we're really up to.
Most political candidates also profess their belief in God. At the same time, they rarely make a big deal of their devotion. They've probably read Matthew 6:1, which warns, "Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them."
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Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who just announced he's running for president, has taken a different tack. A week before announcing his candidacy, he led a prayer meeting for evangelical Christians in Houston. The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit trying to stop him from participating in this rally, arguing that he was violating the First Amendment by using his position, stationery, and website to promote the event. The court dismissed the complaint, saying that the plaintiff didn't show sufficient harm to merit the injunction.
I disagree with the court's ruling. I think the governor misused his office to promote a particular religion. That might have been clearer to the judge if Perry had organized a rally in support of Islam rather than Christianity. There's no difference as far as the First Amendment is concerned.
In any case, Gov. Perry's decision to make his Christian faith a central part of his political identity opens him up to questions not usually asked of presidential candidates.
The press has traditionally been unwilling to question politicians about their religion. But in Perry's case, Christianity is front and center on his platform. I hope David Gregory will ask him some of the following questions when he next appears on Meet the Press, and that other members of the media won't shy away from them either.
First, are Rick Perry's political positions in line with Christ's teachings?
I see a fundamental inconsistency between Perry's concerted opposition to government social programs and his promotion of himself as a Christian politician. When asked about the impact of Texas's low-tax, low-service policies on the poor, he suggested that people who wanted more government services could find them in New York or California.