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.
Christ teaches us to feed the hungry and care for the sick, not to abandon them. Perhaps Gov. Perry hasn't read that part of the Bible where Christ admonishes us to care for "the least among us."
It's more likely that he knows that passage but reads it in a particular light. When I wrote Failing America's Faithful, I interviewed Rick Warren, the evangelical Christian minister and author, about his bestselling book, The Purpose Driven Life. Rick very kindly welcomed me to Saddleback, the church he had founded more than 30 years before. He and his wife were gracious to me. I was impressed by the thoughtfulness with which he reached out to his congregation, and his sensitivity to their needs and wants.
I had read his book, and coming from a different Christian tradition, I was struck by how much it focused on getting you to feel good about yourself rather than caring about your neighbor, which Christ had said was the greatest commandment.
Warren, who now runs many charitable programs and supports government efforts to help the poor and the sick, was forthright in explaining that his views had changed since writing the book. The evangelical church he had grown up in, he told me, had focused on the believer's personal relationship to Jesus and pretty much ignored the social side of the gospel. He finally realized that he had "missed the 2,500 passages" in the Bible that called on him to care about other people, including those outside his church.
Does Rick Perry acknowledge those 2,500 passages? That's the second question I'd like the press to ask him. Maybe he believes, like some socially conservative evangelicals, that these passages refer only to personal charity, not government programs. But I don't see any place in the Bible that says we shouldn't use all the tools we have at hand to help the poor, the sick, and the hungry.