AUSTIN (KXAN) - Next month's mega prayer rally - The Response - at Houston's Reliant Stadium could be in trouble. On Wednesday, a group called the " Freedom From Religion Foundation " filed a federal lawsuit to stop Gov. Rick Perry from taking part.
Atheists and agnostics make up the organization and say Perry is violating the constitutional ban on the government establishing a religion. They have also asked the court to keep the governor from participating in the meeting or using his office to promote or recognize it.
The Wisconsin-based group unsuccessfully sued to stop a national day of prayer earlier this year. It has now filed the new lawsuit on behalf of 700 members in Texas.
"He believes it will serve as an important opportunity for Americans to gather together and pray to God, seeking his wisdom and guidance as our nation navigates the challenges before it," said Perry spokesperson Catherine Frazier. "The pending litigation does not affect plans for the prayer event to carry out as planned."
Eric Bearse, the event's spokesperson, told KXAN more than 6,000 people have already registered to attend.
"We don't have to agree on every issue to pray together," said Bearse. "This is about the movement and not the man."
Amid rumors of a possible presidential run, controversy surround the event has further fueled Perry's national appearance.
"I'm calling on Americans to pray and to fast like Jesus did," Perry said in a new online video.
Austin's University Baptist Church Pastor Larry Bethune said he is all for a day of prayer, but the way Perry is handling the event is alienating non-Christians.
"I regret that Gov. Perry has too often used religion to divide us rather than to bring us together," Bethune said.
There has also been an outcry against some of those speaking at or endorsing the event – like San Antonio Pastor John Hagee, who has been known to spark religious controversy.
In addition, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer has said the Nazi Party began in a gay bar and that Hitler's storm troopers were also gay. Plus, Colorado evangelist Peter Wagner has called for the burning of the statues of Catholic saints and other non-Protestant religious symbols.
There is also Mike Bickle of the International House of Prayer who has said Oprah will be a pastor to the "Harlot Babylon," ushering in the Antichrist. Most recently, the Heartland Apostolic Network's John Benefiel said God has cursed the U.S. because of its pagan idols – even calling the Statue of Liberty "demonic."
"There's no other way you can look at this except as an extremist, exclusionary event that will separate people, that will not bring people of faiths together," said Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin.
Naishtat, who is Jewish, will take part in a counter event on the same day as "The Response" in Austin. Progressive organizers are calling the event, which takes place Aug. 6 at 11 a.m. on the Capitol Steps, "Rick Perry: Bad for Texas, Worse for Our Nation."
"It's not only fair but important for us to hear from the governor what his specific beliefs about some of those extreme views are," said Bethune.
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