- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 13, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Evangelist Franklin Graham, on a 50-state prayer rally tour for more Christian involvement in politics, made clear in Mississippi Wednesday that he supports the state’s incoming law to let churches and some private businesses deny services to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Graham repeatedly cited views against abortion and in favor of “the sanctity of marriage” during the 40-minute rally, attended by thousands.

“America needs the Christian vote,” Graham said, asking listeners to vote for candidates who uphold Biblical values and consider running for office themselves. “It’s not that the enemy is at the gate; the enemy has already come through the gate, because we have left the gates wide open and we have allowed our moral walls to deteriorate and fall down.”

He told reporters afterward that while those who oppose him are free to express their views, he believes Christians should be protected, “not only in the right of worship, but in the ability to live out their faith.”

Mississippi’s law, signed last week by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and effective July 1, would allow religious groups to decline services including housing or adoption to gay couples. Private businesses could refuse marriage-related services. Any employer or school could refuse to allow a transgender person to use the bathroom of their choice. Government clerks could refuse to issue marriage licenses and judges could refuse to marry gay couples. In both cases, governments are supposed to ensure licenses and marriages are “not impeded or delayed.”

Bryant and dozens of lawmakers attended Wednesday’s prayer rally but did not speak.

Graham sketched America in moral decline, saying he preferred the world of his youth where the Ten Commandments hung in his public school classrooms and teachers led students in the Lord’s Prayer.

“You see the enemy, the progressives and the secularists, want you to think you can’t mention the name of God - there’s separation of church and state,” he said. “That is just a lie, an absolute lie. They’re just trying to intimidate you, to keep your mouth shut.”

Steven Brown, 64, of Brandon said he was praying to bring America back to God.

“Right now we have ungodly leadership,” Brown said. “We need to turn this nation around and pray we put God’s choice back in the White House - not man’s choice, but God’s choice.”

While Brown said he thinks Ted Cruz or Donald Trump best embody Graham’s message, it also found favor with Chukwudi Orakwe, 36, of Greenwood, who said he’s leaning toward Democrat Bernie Sanders.

“It seems like Christian values are eroding because Christians are staying backstage,” Orakwe said

Some said they found the focus on religion in politics frustrating.

“Why can’t we get this many people to come out for education or to take down the state flag?” asked Justin Clark, 34, of Meridian, referring to the Confederate emblem on the Mississippi flag.

He and his wife Abby had come to the Capitol not for the rally but to oppose the religious objections law.

“Does it really matter what religion someone is?” said Abby Clark, 32. “We should vote for someone who cares about everyone.”


Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy . Read his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy

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