Governor’s First Amendment Problems Sure to Repel American Jews
The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) today encouraged the likely presidential candidacy of Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry given that his record will help repel American Jews and remind them why they support Democrats in historic numbers. Perry’s positions on issues such as the separation of church and state and the social safety net—along with his associations with radical right-wing groups—make him far too extreme for the vast majority of American Jews.
“Of all of the extremist candidates put forth by the Republican Party this election cycle, Texas Governor Rick Perry may very well be the most extreme,” said NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris. “Perry’s record of blurring the separation of church and state, his overt associations with extreme Christian groups seeking to restrict rights for gays and lesbians, and his frequent attacks on the social safety net make it very clear that Perry has little in common with the vast majority of the American Jewish community. The upside for Jewish Democrats though is that an extremist candidate like Perry—who stands against social justice and religious pluralism—repels Jews from the Republican Party, and reminds us what is at stake in the voting booth in 2012.”
The majority of American Jews expect a candidate to respect First Amendment rights for all and to refrain from injecting religion into their governance. Perry has a clear record of failing on these important issues.
Last weekend, Perry convened an exclusively Christian prayer rally called “The Response,” which was billed as “a call to prayer for a nation in crisis.” In a public letter on the event website, Perry wrote:
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 Response]
Perry’s event, to which he invited “all US governors as well as many other national Christian and political leaders,” was hosted by the American Family Association, a group which blamed the Holocaust on homosexuality and deemed homosexuality a public health problem. [Southern Poverty Law Center] The Southern Poverty Law Center includes AFA in its geographical listing of hate groups. [Southern Poverty Law Center] The event involved speakers and sponsors who have made offensive statements about Jews and have attempted to theologically justify the Holocaust. [NJDC Statement, August 5, 2011] “The Response” was also hosted by Messianic Jews, religious figures openly seeking to convert Jews to Christianity, and certain individuals whose support for Israel is apocalyptic. [NJDC Blog, August 9, 2011] Eric Bearse, the event’s spokesperson, said that part of “The Response’s” purpose was to proselytize to non-Christians. [Mother Jones, June 14, 2011]
While promoting the event, Perry implied that God is responsible for the work of governing, rather than the President and Congress:
I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God and say, ‘God, You’re going to have to fix this.’...
I think it’s time for us to use our wisdom and our influence and really put it in God’s hands. That’s what I’m going to do, and I hope you’ll join me. [Think Progress, July 14, 2011]
At a 2010 Texas Eagle Forum convention Perry also brought religion into his politics by asking activists, “Do you believe in the primacy of unrestrained federal government? Or do you worship the God of the universe, placing our trust in him?” [Houston Chronicle, June 11, 2010]
Perry’s utter disregard for the separation of church and state goes much further. Perry has advocated for teaching intelligent design in schools “as a matter of faith and intellect.” [Houston Chronicle, September 13, 2010] In 2005, he held a controversial ceremony at an evangelical school in Fort Worth where he signed bills to prohibit same-sex marriage and restrict a woman’s right to choose. [New York Times, June 6, 2005]
Perry is a fierce opponent of a strong social safety net—which places him at odds with a broad coalition of Jewish communal institutions, advocacy groups, and grassroots activists. His verbal attacks on necessary social safety net fixtures make him perhaps the most extreme right-wing candidate yet. He called Social Security a “failure” that “we have been forced to accept for 70 years now,” and declared that the program should be cut altogether. In addition, Perry has attacked Medicare, saying that Representatives who voted against cuts to Medicare should “let somebody come who really is interested in not spending more dollars that we don’t have on programs that we don’t want.” [Newsweek, November 8, 2010]
Perry panders to secessionists, which causes great concern among American Jews who are overwhelmingly offended by Confederate imagery and rhetoric. [Salon, July 13, 2011] Perry infamously fired up Tax Day Tea Party activists by suggesting that Texas secede from the Union. [AP, April 15, 2009] Shockingly, a Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll from April 2009 found that Texas Republicans agreed with Perry’s talk of secession. [TPM, April 23, 2009] A month after the poll results came out, Perry continued to pander to right wing extremists and refused to renounce his secession comments. [Think Progress, May 14, 2009]
Perry is too radical for the dramatic majority of American Jews. His popularity in the Republican Party reflects the growing influence of extremists within the GOP and only emphasizes the wide distance separating most Jews and the GOP. A Rick Perry candidacy will continue to repel large numbers of American Jews from the Republican Party and will remind them why they have remained squarely and historically within the Democratic coalition.