HOUSTON — A festival of prayer surrounded by a swirl of politics attracted thousands of worshippers and hundreds of protesters to Reliant Stadium on Saturday.
Gov. Rick Perry’s heavily-publicized call for a day of prayer drew a crowd organizers estimated at more than 30,000. Outside the stadium, drivers rolling past the stadium blew their horns at demonstrators protesting the gathering.
“I love this country deeply,” Perry told the crowd. “Thank you all for being here. Indeed, the only thing that you love more is the living Christ.”
The governor read scripture, led a prayer and talked before the rapturous and raucous crowd.
“He is a wise, wise God,” Perry said. “And he’s wise enough to not be affiliated with any political party.”
Perry occasionally touched upon political themes, but only in the context of prayer and preaching. He offered prayers for political leaders, including the president and his family, provoking a loud reaction from his audience.
“Father, our hearts break for America,” Perry said. “We see discord in homes. We see fear in the marketplace. We see anger in the halls of Congress.”
As the crowd inside the stadium began their daylong event with prayers, preaching and singing, small groups of demonstrators lined the sidewalks outside the stadium protesting the event.
The biggest complaint was the idea that Perry’s rally violated the first amendment to the constitution.
As demonstrators lined the streets, a plane flying overhead pulled a banner advertising a website dedicated to the separation of church and state.
“For me, anyway, it’s about Rick Perry in his official capacity as governor promoting a very evangelical sect of Christianity” said Curt Loose, an atheist demonstrator. “I don’t care if he prays. I don’t care if they pray. I just don’t want the governor promoting it in his official capacity.”