by Herb Silverman
When I heard that a Christian Renewal prayer rally called “The Response” would be coming to the largest auditorium in my hometown of Charleston on June 13, I mostly said to myself, “Ho-hum, here we go again with another unproductive prayerfest.” But my interest piqued when I learned that South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley endorsed the event and is heavily promoting it. She will be the only celebrity on stage as she welcome attendees and begins the prayer. While Governor Haley is inviting people of all faiths (perhaps even atheists?) to attend, I expect many would be uncomfortable at a prayer rally led only by evangelical Christians whose stated purpose is to exalt the name of Jesus (and nobody else).
Here are 5 questions about the event, along with my answers.
1. Who is behind The Response?
David Lane, president and founder of the American Renewal Project, is the leading backer of such events. Though billed as apolitical, Lane organized similar “apolitical” rallies in Texas and Louisiana. Governor Rick Perry spoke at the Texas event in 2011, just before he announced as a 2012 Republican presidential candidate. Governor Bobby Jindal spoke at the Louisiana event in January, and might soon announce as a 2016 Republican presidential candidate. Lane wants a religious right army to pick the next president. He believes homosexuality will lead to the destruction of America, and he thinks Christianity should be the official religion of the United States.
2. Is Governor Haley’s action legal?
As a private citizen, or even as governor, Nikki Haley may attend any event she wants. But it became legally problematic when Governor Haley issued an open invitation to The Response written on official letterhead with the Seal of the Governor of South Carolina. She also made a video in her office encouraging all citizens to attend and join her in prayer to Jesus. When religious events are tied to elected officials and appear to be sponsored by the government, this sends a message to those of other faiths and none that they are second-class citizens. Governor Haley is free to tell everyone she is a Christian, but she should not use her office to promote Christianity. Government must not favor one religion over another or religion over non-religion.
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