On January 24th, the Response Louisiana rally took place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. While Religious Right speakers spoke inside LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center, LSU students and faculty took part in a protest entitled "Organize, Reflect, Act: A Day of Action for Justice in Louisiana". The rally and march were sponsored by multiple progressive organizations, including Equality Louisiana, Louisiana Progress, Louisiana NOW, and the National Council for Jewish Women. Demonstrators condemned the American Family Association, a key sponsor of the Response Louisiana, for its homophobia and intolerance.
Chris Barrett, an LSU English professor, blasted the American Family Association and stressed that it did not reflect the values of the university. At the 2:22 mark of the video above, Barrett described how she reached out to LSU's present.
"I wrote to the president of the university in December and I said, please intervene! The hate group, the American Family Association, is coming to the PMAC. Please do something because we don't want the world to think wrongfully for one minute that the AFA and its hate and its intolerance in any way represents the best of LSU ... We at LSU are committed to learning about the rich and difficult and complex nature of the world. We are not narrowed to the AFA's slit of bias and intolerance."
Sporting a rainbow stole, Reverend Nathan Ryan of the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge spoke to an attentive crowd at the demonstration. "You deserve to have love; you deserve to be treated with respect and with dignity," he told demonstrators, rejecting the homophobia and intolerance of Response Louisiana's sponsors. Ryan recognized that many Response Louisiana need help freeing themselves from their unhealthy spirituality.
"They can't do it because they're too burdened by the need to judge and the need to hold up a fractured scripture. Not that scripture is fractured, but that they have allowed the scripture to become so concrete and so tangible that God cannot fit within their scriptures. But God is that which is love, that which pulls you towards justice and towards kindness and towards compassion, and that means toward every single person here."Ryan's prayer was that Response Louisiana attendees "can let go of hatred, that they can let go of a narrow minded God." When a heckler shouted, "There's more hatred out here than in there!", Ryan also hoped that Response Louisiana attendees could let go of their need to shout others down. The crowd burst into laughter and applause.
Baton Rouge poet Donney Rose read his poem "Confessions of a Reformed Homophobe, Part I", which must be heard to truly be appreciated. Rose lamented religious homophobia and hypocrisy, blasting the closet as a "graveyard for rainbows" in which "accessorized skeletons" hang.
Predictably, Religious Right observers defended the Response Louisiana and blasted the demonstrators. The January 26th edition of Sandy Rios in the Morning featured Christian apologetics speaker Alex McFarland, who condemned the anti-Response protest. In an audio segment captured by Right Wing Watch, McFarland criticized the rally as an affront to patriotism.
"I care about America, Sandy. I care about young people being taught to be good citizens, and even if someone doesn't ever become a born-again Christian, we still need to affirm citizenship and really patriotism. And this type of thing--it's somewhat understandable that an 18 year-old could bite the hook of something like this, but for grown-ups to encourage it, and for the administration of LSU to have their faculty just speaking derision of the governor, this undermines America. I mean, this is borderline treasonous."Jennifer LeClair, a supporter of the Response Louisiana, was baffled that anyone would be opposed to Gov. Jindal's prayer rally. In a January 28th commentary piece at Charisma News, LeClaire accused "the religion-less" of being threatened by Christian prayer. The reasons behind resistance to the Response Louisiana escaped her.
"Although disappointing, it's not surprising that Jindal received heaps of criticism for his decision to host a Christian prayer rally. Protestors gathered outside the assembly center to voice their opposition. One protestor told CBN, "He shouldn't be doing it on a state campus. If they want to do that, go somewhere else."Religious Right figures frequently criticize political leaders and promote a vision of America that is incompatible with the Constitution. However, when critics call them out on their rhetoric, they suddenly care about "patriotism" and "free speech". If Religious Right voices truly care about "citizenship", they must recognize that free speech and criticism of political leaders is vital to democracy. If Religious Right voices want to make inflammatory statements, they must also be prepared to take criticism for those statements. The sponsors of the Response Louisiana have certainly earned that criticism, and I applaud the January 24th demonstrators for vocalizing it.
I could go on an on and some of the backlash is much worse than that—for calling people to come together and pray in the name of Jesus. I'm all for free speech and freedom of religion, but it seems some other religions—or the religion-less, secular humanists and atheists—are threatened by Christians who pray in the name of Jesus. That always surprises me, given they don't believe there's any God listening or answering anyway. Atheists should be glad Jindal is praying. I pray that God will encounter the hearts of atheists in an unprecedented way this year."