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The Brief: July 14, 2011

For Gov. Rick Perry, a lawsuit filed Wednesday over his August prayer event could be a blessing in disguise.

Gov. Rick Perry in an interview with Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith

The Big Conversation:

For Gov. Rick Perry, a lawsuit filed Wednesday over his August prayer event could be a blessing in disguise.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation on Wednesday asked a federal court to block Perry's participation in a major Christian prayer rally and fasting event, dubbed The Response, at Houston's Reliant Stadium next month.

The foundation, a Wisconsin-based atheist watchdog group, which filed the suit on behalf of five Houston residents, argues that the governor's involvement and promotion of the event violates the separation of church and state. In its complaint, the group also called prayer and fasting "an ineffectual use of time and government resources … which can be harmful or counterproductive as a substitute for reasoned action.”

Perry, not unexpectedly, said the lawsuit changed nothing. "Gov. Perry believes the prayer event will serve as an opportunity for Americans to pray together for our nation," said Perry spokesman Mark Miner, according to the Houston Chronicle. "This lawsuit does not affect plans for the event, and it will proceed as scheduled."

Eric Bearse, a spokesman for the event, went further in painting the suit as something closer to an attack on Christianity. "We expected this kind of legal harassment," Bearse told ABC News. "But the right of Americans to assemble and pray has been established for over 200 years. We are confident we will be victorious."

And that's what may help Perry, who, as the Tribune's Ross Ramsey explores today, is looking for support as a possible presidential candidate among the same group that has helped him keep his decade-long hold on the Governor's Mansion: social conservatives.

The Chronicle also reports today on "deeply religious" language Perry used in May during a private fundraising meeting for the prayer event. "At 27 years old, I knew that I had been called to the ministry," Perry said during the meeting, according to a transcript obtained by the Chronicle. "I've just always been really stunned by how big a pulpit I was gonna have. I still am. I truly believe with all my heart that God has put me in this place at this time to do his will."

Though such religious rhetoric — and Perry's involvement with The Response, which the lawsuit only further publicizes — could present a challenge for a candidate in a general election context, Perry the primary candidate likely has nothing to worry about. And given the contours of the Republican primary, in which Perry would likely be vying for the same social conservatives as U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, the debate probably helps him — at this stage, at least.

"I don't think there is anything off-putting about his language or his imagery in the Republican primary," a representative from a national polling firm tells the Chronicle.

Culled:

  • U.S. Rep. Ron Paul hits the airwaves Friday in Iowa and New Hampshire with a bombastic new ad, styled to resemble a movie trailer, that gravely warns of the perils of raising the debt ceiling.
  • Politico, which has a look at race and the candidacy of Michael Williams, the former railroad commissioner and U.S. Senate candidate now vying for a newly created congressional seat based in Arlington, observes that a Williams win would give Republicans more black House members than they've had at any time since Reconstruction.
  • Ten constitutional amendments — including proposals targeting El Paso County and disabled veterans — will appear on the November ballot in Texas. Constitutional amendments, after receiving two-thirds approval from both houses of the Legislature, appear on the state ballot every odd-numbered year.

"He doesn't offend the whole broad spectrum of economic and social conservatives. He's just the right person at the right time at the right place."Susan Weddington, former chairwoman of the Republican Party of Texas, on Gov. Rick Perry's potential presidential candidacy

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