Over the past decade Gov. Rick Perry has turned the Texas governor's office into a command post for "culture warriors" on the far right. In fact, his administration's policies have been so focused on locking up the support of social conservatives that Gov. Perry won just 39 percent of the general election vote in 2006 — enough to win re-election in a crowded field that included a Democrat and two independents. The following is a record of Gov. Perry's statements and extremist positions on an array of social conservative causes and issues.
Perry's Record on:
Using Faith as a Political Weapon
'The Response' Prayer Rally in Houston
Private School Vouchers
Women's Health and Reproductive Rights
Texas State Board of Education
Gov. Perry has offered oddly contradictory statements about faith and politics over the years. Asked in 2002 about how religion informed his personal politics, Gov. Perry replied: "I don't think it does, particularly." Another excerpt from the same Texas Monthly article:
"When I asked the two candidates for governor if I could attend church with them to explore the link between faith and politics in their lives, Tony Sanchez agreed but Rick Perry declined. Faith, after all, is one of the last truly personal areas of American life, and Perry felt my going to church with him was too great an intrusion. He did agree to talk about his faith in an interview. I began by asking the governor to describe the origins of his faith. The question seemed to throw him off momentarily, but then he found a foothold in his memory, one of a Sunday morning long ago in a small Methodist church in the West Texas town of Haskell."
But Gov. Perry has also shamelessly used faith as a political tool throughout his electoral career. As he campaigned in February 2002, for example, Gov. Perry said the following at the Church on the Rock in the East Texas town of Longview (article no longer available on the web; "Perry speaks out for faith," Longview News-Journal, 2/22/2002):
"I want people of faith on my side, not just voting on election day but by hoisting me up by getting down on your knees and lifting me up in prayer. Those who have a different view of things are already organizing."
"Will you stand in the gap with those of us who believe there's a God, and a God who is strong? We can stand in the gap together and speak about issues we believe in. And we will make a difference, and we will be victorious."
In 2005 the governor spoke at six so-called "Pastors' Policy Briefings" organized by the Texas Restoration Project. The series of closed-door events were funded through a Houston nonprofit, the Niemoller Foundation, that itself was funded by some of Gov. Perry's largest campaign contributors over the years, including San Antonio businessman James Leininger. The Texas Restoration Project events ultimately pulled together thousands of conservative evangelical ministers and their spouses to the events — with free food and lodging — to hear appeals to politicize their congregations in support of conservative causes and candidates. Sometimes sounding more like a pastor than an elected official, Gov. Perry made sure to weave appeals to faith throughout his political speeches at the events. From one speech:
"This I know. He who counts every hair on our heads and every drop in the oceans; He who knows the number of our days and every thought before it enters our heads; this all-knowing, all-powerful Creator loves us so much that there is not a matter so trivial or so small that we can't surrender it to Him and say, 'Father, your will be done!' I certainly know this to be the heartfelt prayer of a governor."
David Lane, one of the chief organizers of the Texas Restoration Project events (which were coordinated with the governor's schedule), explained the purpose of the events this way (original link unavailable):
"The mission is the mobilization of pastors and pews as a way to restore Texas and America to our Judeo-Christian heritage."
(Lane has since founded the American Renewal Project, something of an umbrella group for a network of state-based Restoration and Renewal Projects around the country. In August 2011, Lane authored an American Renewal Project email questioning whether Republican presidential candidates would exhibit an "ounce of Biblical faith" on the issue of wifely submission to husbands. Lane's email describes a wife as her husband's "most prominent social adornment" and argues that young people don't know the "truth" about the mandate of wifely submission because the Bible is no longer "the primary textbook in American education" that it should be": "[I]t's time for Believers to re-institute prayer, The Bible, Jesus, The Ten Commandments and honoring God at Commencement into our public schools.")
The electoral purpose of the Texas Restoration Project events were made clear when Gov. Perry's re-election campaign used the Texas Restoration Project's massive mailing list to send cards to ministers who attended the "Pastors' Policy Briefings." A seventh "briefing" for pastors was held in January 2007 in Austin to celebrate Gov. Perry's re-inauguration.
In 2005 Gov. Perry also traveled to an evangelical Christian school in Fort Worth to sign legislation restricting abortion and a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Texas. (The amendment — later approved by Texas voters — did not require his signature.) The governor's speech at the event was preceded by those of conservative evangelical ministers, such as Rod Parsely of the Center for Moral Clarity in Ohio. His re-election campaign backed away from original plans to film the event. Parsely was also a prominent speaker at Texas Restoration Project events for the governor. Gov. Perry told the assembled crowd:
"We may be on the grounds of a Christian church, but we all believe in standing up for the unborn."
In June 2011, Gov. Perry announced that he had invited the nation's other 49 governors to participate in "The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis." Gov. Perry's initiative in hosting the Aug. 6 event in Houston's Reliant Stadium was remarkable for many reasons, but especially two.
First was the choice to use a public institution, the Governor's Office, as a tool for Christian evangelizing. Indeed, organizers focused the Houston event on promoting Christianity, regardless of the religious diversity of Texas and the governor's status as an elected public official. In fact, Eric Bearse, a former communications director for Gov. Perry and the spokesperson for "The Response," suggested that a key purpose of the event was to evangelize to non-Christians:
"A lot of people want to criticize what we're doing, as if we're somehow being exclusive of other faiths. But anyone who comes to this solemn assembly regardless of their faith tradition or background, will feel the love, grace, and warmth of Jesus Christ in that assembly hall, in that arena. And that's what we want to convey, that there's acceptance and that there's love and that there's hope if people will seek out the living Christ. And that's the message we want to spread on August 6th."
A second reason Gov. Perry's leading role in this event was remarkable was his decision to ask the American Family Association to organize it. The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified the American Family Association as a hate group on par with the nation's most virulent anti-gay groups as well as the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nations. Indeed, spokesmen for the AFA traffic in extreme anti-gay bigotry, promote discrimination and hate against Muslims and other non-Christians, and employ rhetoric that plays to racist stereotypes.
Click here for more about the organizers and endorsers of "The Response." Some are so extreme that they have employed incendiary anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic rhetoric in the past, called the Statue of Liberty a "demonic idol," claimed that Oprah Winfrey is a forerunner of the Antichrist and suggested that violent revolution is a reasonable option for Americans today.
Gov. Perry supports teaching "intelligent design"/creationism alongside evolution in public school classrooms. A letter to a Texas voter from the Governor's Office in 2005 expressed Gov. Perry's position:
"Recognizing that evolution is a theory, and not claimed by anyone to be more than that, the governor believes it would be a disservice to our children to teach them only one theory on the origin of our existence without recognizing other scientific theories worth consideration. Intelligent design is a concept that is gaining greater traction because it points to a notion that most people believe to be true: that we were created by an intelligent being who designed the human race with great detail and complexity. . . . "
"Recently a federal judge in Pennsylvania declared the teaching of intelligent design to be unconstitutional, but it is unclear what higher courts will eventually rule in deciding this matter. Once the courts have spoken with finality and clarity, Texas schools will abide by that decision."
Another letter from the Governor's Office in 2005 said the following:
"The governor does not oppose presenting creationism alongside evolution in discussions about the origins of mankind."
"I am a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect, and I believe it should be presented in schools alongside the theories of evolution. The State Board of Education has been charged with the task of adopting curriculum requirements for Texas public schools and recently adopted guidelines that call for the examination of all sides of a scientific theory, which will encourage critical thinking in our students, an essential learning skill."
Gov. Perry has appointed three consecutive evolution-deniers to chair the State Board of Education. The tenures of the first two were so controversial that the state Senate refused to confirm their appointments to second terms. He appointed Don McLeroy, a Republican from College Station and a self-described "young Earth creationist" as chair in 2007. After the Senate refused to confirm McLeroy's appointment in 2009, Gov. Perry appointed Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, as chair. Lowe had voted with McLeroy that same year to require that students learn creationist arguments against evolution in their science classrooms. The Senate failed to confirm Lowe's appointment in 2011. Gov. Perry then appointed Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, to chair the board in July 2011 while the Senate was not in session, therefore avoiding a confirmation hearing until the Legislature reconvenes in 2013. A former biology teacher, Cargill within a few days of being appointed delivered a speech to the Texas Eagle Forum in which she cast doubt on the theory of evolution with arguments from the anti-evolution Discovery Institute that have been discredited by credible scientists:
"If you have students analyzing and evaluating the fossil record, then that gets them really thinking: ‘OK, there are gaps in the fossil record.’ Matter of fact, there are more gaps in the fossil record than there is a continuum in the fossil record. So it gets our high school students really thinking."
In Aug. 2011, in the week after he announced he would seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012, Gov. Perry told a young questioner evolution is a theory with "gaps" and that in Texas creationism is taught alongside evolution in Texas public schools.
NPR documented Gov. Perry's comments:
"How old do I think the earth is? You know what? I don't have any idea. I know it's pretty old. So it goes back a long, long way. I'm not sure anybody actually knows completely and absolutely how old the earth is.
"I hear your mom was asking about evolution and, you know, it's a theory that's out there. It's got some gaps in it, but in Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools. Because I figure you're smart enough to figure out which one is right."
PolitiFact Texas and a number of other outlets fact-checked Gov. Perry's statements and found them to be incorrect.
Gov. Perry has called on the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse its decades-old ruling against government-sponsored prayer in public schools:
"Why not? They took it out. They can sure put it back in."
In October 2001 the governor even said he wanted to make government-sponsored prayer in public schools a campaign issue, dragging one of the most important protections for the religious liberty of students into partisan politics. Indeed, his comments have made him appear oblivious to the difference between officially sponsored prayer (which is unconstitutional) and voluntary prayer and other expressions of faith on the part of individual students (which are protected by the U.S. Constitution). In fact, Gov. Perry has sounded almost intolerant of the fact that not all students in a public school share the same religious beliefs or that it's possible that some of their families are not religious at all. He was quoted defending his prayer with a local minister at a compulsory event at an East Texas public middle school in October 2001:
"From my personal perspective, I think that a prayer life and a country that respects a higher being, our God, is a stronger country. I believe that, and I think the vast majority of the people in Texas and in this country believe that."
"I happen to think we all pray to the same God. I'll let the theologians split the hairs and do all those kind of things."
A Texas Education Agency spokesperson warned that the governor had put the school at risk of a lawsuit by choosing to lead students in prayer at an event at which attendance was compulsory.
Even though Texas law already barred same-sex marriage, Gov. Perry in 2005 helped push through legislative and voter approval of an amendment extending that ban to the state Constitution. He was joined in his efforts by an array of religious-right groups, especially the Texas Restoration Project.
The anti-gay rhetoric at Texas Restoration Project events was so vicious that one speaker — the Rev. Dwight McKissic — actually suggested that God sent Hurricane Katrina to New Orleans to "purify out nation" because of the supposed acceptance of homosexuality:
"I'm raising the question. At some point, God will hold us accountable for our sins."
Gov. Perry was silent regarding those comments when he spoke at the same event. (A spokesman later told a reporter that the governor "disagreed" with the comments "but far be it for the governor to try to divine the will of the Almighty.")
During the anti-gay marriage campaign, Gov. Perry invited gay and lesbian military veterans returning home to consider living in another state. He had been asked by a reporter what he had to say "to gays and lesbians who are serving in the military right now in Iraq who are going to come back to Texas and may not be entitled to the same rights as the rest of us?" His response:
"Texans have made a decision about marriage and if there is some other state that has a more lenient view than Texas then maybe that's a better place for them to live."
Gov. Perry felt compelled to make an odd — and gratuitous — joke about same-sex marriage in a discussion on economic issues during his re-election campaign in 2010:
"There is still a land of opportunity, friends — it's called Texas. We're creating more jobs than any other state in the nation. ... Would you rather live in a state like this, or in a state where a man can marry a man?"
Texas has the nation's third-highest teen birthrate. In addition, teen childbearing in Texas costs taxpayers $1.2 billion annually. Even so, a 2009 report from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund revealed that more than 96 percent of the state's public school districts taught abstinence-only or nothing at all when it came to sex education. Yet the failure of abstinence-only policies that dominate Texas public schools has remained lost on Gov. Perry, who opposes comprehensive sex education.
The Texas Department of State Health Services, in consultation with the Governor's Office, in the summer of 2010 decided not to apply for federal funding for programs that educate teens about contraception as well as abstinence to prevent pregnancy. In October of that year, the Texas Tribune asked Gov. Perry about abstinence-only policies on sex education:
Gov. Perry: "Abstinence works."
Interviewer: "But we have the third highest teen pregnancy rate among all states in the country. . . . It doesn't seem to be working."
Gov. Perry: "It works. Maybe it's the way it's being taught or the way that it's being applied out there. But the fact of the matter is, it is the best form to teach our children."
Interviewer: "Can you give me a statistic suggesting it works?"
Gov. Perry: "I'm just going to tell you from my own personal life, abstinence works. And the point is, if we're not teaching it, and if we're not impressing it upon them, then no.
He then distorted the intent of the question (which was not to promote the notion that young people should be encouraged to have sex):
"If the point is we're going to go stand up here and say, 'Listen, y'all go have sex and go have whatever is going on and we'll worry with that and here is the ways to have safe sex,' I'm sorry, you can call me old-fashioned if you want, but that is not what I'm going to stand up in front of the people of the state of Texas and say that is the way we need to go and forget about abstinence."
The inability to pass a private school voucher scheme in Texas has been one of Rick Perry's biggest public policy failures. In 1998, Perry won a tight election for lieutenant governor with the help of nearly $100,000 in direct donations from the family of San Antonio businessman James Leininger, the state's most prominent supporter of private school vouchers. Leininger also backed a $1.1 million last-minute loan to the Perry campaign that helped put the then-agriculture commissioner over the top in that election. (Perry beat his Democratic opponent, John Sharp, by less than 2 percent of the vote.)
Leininger has continued to be a generous funder of Perry's campaigns and those of other voucher backers, but the Legislature has never passed such a scheme. (Leininger spent $50 million to fund a 10-year private school voucher scheme in San Antonio's Edgewood Independent School District, with the hope that the Legislature would pass a publicly funded program during that period. He ended his funding in 2008.) In addition, Leininger and two other businessmen paid $40,400 to fly the governor, his wife and top staffers on private jets to the Bahamas in February 2004. Leininger and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist accompanied the governor. Gov. Perry said the trip included "real, progressive conversation" on school finance issues.
During his campaign for lieutenant governor in 1998, Perry made varying statements regarding his support for private school vouchers. ("Perry tape reveals new voucher stance," Houston Chronicle, 2/6/98; archived here; no original link available; hard copy on file at TFN) In October 1997, Perry told the Houston Chronicle a voucher program should be small and optional for local school districts.
"The real key is these decisions be made at the local level where the parents and the teachers and the local taxpayers and school board will be making these decisions and not be mandated from some central bureaucracy in Austin."
But just months later, in January 1998, Perry was secretly recorded saying something different at an event hosted by Putting Children First, a pro-voucher group. In response to a question about local school boards that might refuse to implement a voucher plan should the Legislature pass one, Perry warned that he would find a way "if the local board cannot be trusted":
"I will tell you point blank that I will not allow a local school board to stop from allowing parental choice to happen in their community if it becomes the law of the land."
The Texas House came within a handful of votes of passing a private school voucher scheme in 2005. The defeat of that voucher bill came despite intense lobbying of lawmakers by Gov. Perry and James Leininger. Twice since then, in 2007 and 2009, the Texas House has voted overwhelmingly to prohibit spending public dollars on private school vouchers.
Gov. Perry has made limiting women's access to abortion services one of the state's top priorities. In fact, with the state Legislature facing a constitutional mandate to close a massive budget deficit in spring 2011, Gov. Perry insisted that lawmakers fast-track legislation creating more obstacles for women seeking abortions. Among the items Gov. Perry designated as an "emergency" was passage of a bill requiring that women seeking an abortion obtain a sonogram of the fetus. Gov. Perry later vetoed legislation establishing a statewide ban on texting while driving, calling it "a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults." Yet the sonogram bill he enthusiastically signed into law requires that a doctor conduct a sonogram of the fetus and then show and describe it in detail to a woman before performing an abortion. The woman would then be required to wait another 24 hours (two hours if she lives more than 100 miles from the nearest clinic) before obtaining the abortion.
Gov. Perry later signed legislation slashing state funding for family planning services by two-thirds. Legislative supporters of that and similar measures limiting funds for reproductive services acknowledged that their efforts were focused on more than ending abortions in Texas. State Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center told the Texas Tribune: "Well, of course, it's a war on birth control and abortions and everything. That's what family planning is supposed to be about."
The State Board of Education has been a major battleground in the nation's culture wars for at least the last decade. Rather than seeking to end those battles, however, Gov. Perry has made them more heated with his appointments of dedicated culture warriors to chair the board. In fact, he has now appointed three creationists in a row as board chair — Don McLeroy in 2007, Gail Lowe in 2009 and Barbara Cargill in 2011. All three have insisted that Texas students learn about "intelligent design"/creationist arguments against evolution in their science classrooms. In 2010 they also succeeded in rewriting social studies curriculum standards that were criticized by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute as deeply politicized distortions of history. Those standards even suggest that separation of church and state isn't a key principle of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. McLeroy's and Lowe's tenures as board chair were so divisive and controversial that the Texas Senate refused to confirm either of them for second terms. The Senate hasn't yet had the opportunity to consider Cargill's appointment. Cargill hasn't done herself any favors, however. Days after her appointment as board chair in July 2011, she questioned the religious faith of board members -- including fellow Republicans -- who don't share her views on creationism and other issues that have been so divisive on the board.
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