- The Washington Times - Monday, January 11, 2016

Racial reconciliation and religious liberty are the top issues for 2016, the leader of a prominent traditional-values group said in his second annual “State of the Family” presentation Monday night.

The 30-minute live-streamed speech by Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, was given in the organization’s auditorium, where friends and special guests were gathered. The guests included Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, Louisiana school principal Jason Rowland, and Texas clergymen Pastor Hernan Castano and the Rev. Charles Flowers.

Mr. Perkins laid out key issues of concern to families and the broader culture, and then urged Americans to step up to “strengthen protections of human life, marriage, and religious liberty.”

The issue of ending racial conflict, for instance, must be addressed by the American population — and “I believe there is a broad middle ready and willing to work toward this goal,” said Mr. Perkins.

Rather than letting race issues be exploited for partisan purposes, however, “it is long past time for our nation’s religious leaders to come together, and show our political leaders a way forward,” he said.

Standing for religious liberty — in the public square, in the military and in foreign countries — is also a priority, Mr. Perkins said, noting that without religious liberty, “there can be no liberty at all in America.”

Other 2016 crises are to stop the disintegration of the family and shore up parental rights.

Mr. Perkins concluded by urging Americans, as slavery-fighter William Wilberforce once urged, to become “souls of prayer,” and organize, donate, speak to neighbors, and “proclaim our views boldly.” He urged backers to then take what Dr. Martin Luther King called “that little walk to the voting booth.”

“The past year has shown us that we cannot and will not be permitted to separate ourselves” from the social battles that are under way in the nation, Mr. Perkins said.

It’s better to use the freedom of faith and freedom of speech to “stand for God’s unchanging truths,” and “tell a compelling story to our fellow citizens that there is, in fact, a better way,” he said.

In interviews before the State of the Family speech, Ms. Davis said Kentucky clerks’ offices are far more quiet now since Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who campaigned last year on religious liberty, issued an executive order removing clerks’ names from marriage licenses.

“The governor was true to his word” about the religious accommodation — “he said he would bring Christian values back into the state, and I believe him,” said Ms. Davis, a devout Christian who went to jail for five days last summer rather than issue licenses with her name on them to same-sex couples.

Ms. Davis’ stance caused her to be publicly vilified and mocked — but also personally encouraged by Pope Francis, who met with her and gave her a rosary on his September visit to Washington, D.C.

Mr. Rowland, principal of Airline High School in Bossier Parish, said student-led religious expressions, such as prayer boxes, are quietly in place, despite a letter of complaint last year from the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana.

The prayer boxes were conceived by students as a way to let people put out signed or unsigned requests for prayers for a loved one or a situation.

It lets someone ask “for prayers for my mom” or “pray for Jane,” said Mr. Rowland, who added that the boxes are placed in the same school areas where students gather goods for food drives and other community activities.

Mr. Castano of Houston and Mr. Flowers of San Antonio said their collaborative efforts in their cities pushed back against laws and policies they believed were immoral, such as a gender-identity nondiscrimination ordinance that would have permitted biological males to use women’s bathrooms.

Overturning Houston’s transgender bathroom law “sent a message” that political leaders “should respect the people and the body of Christ,” said Mr. Castano, one of five pastors whose sermons were subpoenaed by Houston’s then-mayor.

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