- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

DALLAS (AP) — Even for Texas, the scene was remarkable: The governor, flanked by an out-of-state televangelist and religious leaders, signing legislation in a church school gymnasium amid shouts of “amen” like one would hear at a revival.

It wasn’t just the blunt blend of church and state that made the gathering in Fort Worth unusual. Advance publicity also attracted about 300 angry protesters — unheard of for the routine business of ceremonial bill signings.

Now some wonder whether Gov. Rick Perry overplayed his hand last week in using the playbook of old friend George W. Bush and political whiz Karl Rove — mobilizing evangelicals for last year’s presidential race.

“Governor Perry and his people are just not as good as Bush and Rove,” Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson said. “Governor Perry knows the steps, but he’s got no rhythm.”

Mr. Perry’s appeal came as he awaited possible Republican primary challenges from U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn in 2006. But Mr. Jillson said the ex-Democrat risks overdoing his mix of political issues and religious themes.

It’s a gamble the governor seems willing to take. Last month, he spoke to about 500 pastors in Austin at a meeting of the Texas Restoration Project, which plans to register 300,000 new “values voters” in Texas and elect candidates who reflect their conservative views.

In the private meeting, Mr. Perry championed promotion of spiritual values on the public square.

“One of the great myths of our time is that you can’t legislate morality,” the governor told the ministers, according to a transcript provided to the Associated Press by his campaign.

“If you can’t legislate morality, then you can neither lock criminals up, nor let them go free. If you can’t legislate morality, you can neither recognize gay marriage, nor prohibit it. If you can’t legislate morality, you can neither allow for prayer in school, nor prevent it,” he said. “It is a ridiculous notion to say you can’t legislate morality. I say you can’t not legislate morality.”

Ohio televangelist Rod Parsley and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council in Washington were among the religious conservatives who shared the stage with Mr. Perry at the Fort Worth bill signing.

Objections to Mr. Perry’s using a church school as a backdrop to a bill signing preceded his visit, with critics mostly focusing on the First Amendment’s ban on the establishment of religion.

“This is one of the most outrageous misuses of a house of worship for political gain that I’ve ever seen,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Mr. Perry shrugged off the complaints.

“We could have signed it in a lot of different locations,” Mr. Perry said on Fox News.

“We could have signed it in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and those who are against people of faith being involved in the electoral process would still have been very much against” the measures, which limited late-term abortions and put a state-constitutional amendment against homosexual “marriage” on the November 2006 ballot.

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