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A Question of Gym-and-State Separation

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By Sylvia Moreno and Peter Baker
Saturday, June 4, 2005

Gov. Rick Perry (R) is going to church tomorrow, not necessarily for the obvious reason: He plans to sign two bills sought by conservatives and passed by the Republican-dominated Texas legislature. One requires parents to sign off on abortions for minors; the other calls for a November vote on a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Actually, the signing will be held in the gymnasium of the private school that is next door to and under the auspices of Calvary Cathedral, one of the largest Christian churches in Fort Worth.

"This is way over the line," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "This is a grotesque use of church by a political figure."

Lynn cited an e-mail circulated by the Tarrant County Republican Party saying that the governor's campaign -- Perry will run for reelection next year -- wants "to completely fill this location with pro-family Christian friends who can celebrate with us" and that the event might be filmed for an ad.

Lynn said his group, which asked Perry to cancel the event, will file a complaint with the IRS, challenging the tax-exempt status of Calvary Cathedral. During the 2004 election, Americans United filed 11 similar complaints against houses of worship that it believed violated federal tax law by endorsing candidates or allowing church resources to be used for partisan purposes.

Perry's spokeswoman, Kathy Walt, said the church-school gym "is a perfectly legitimate venue to have a bill signing." She said the practice of Perry's campaign office to alert local groups of his appearances is routine and that, in this case, even the group Democrats for Life has been invited to attend "an event that is open to the public."

She said the event will not be filmed by the campaign. "There are a number of critics of the governor signing this regardless of where it would be. They do not support the pro-life, pro-family legislative issues. I think there are others who clearly are opposed to people of faith having any part in the government or the electoral process."

Bush's Unannounced Dinner With Powell

Just eight hours after publicly chastising the Senate this week for not confirming his choice for ambassador to the United Nations, President Bush hopped into his motorcade and headed out to Virginia for a private dinner with the man who may have done as much to stall the nomination as any senator.

Bush's unannounced visit to the McLean home of former secretary of state Colin L. Powell was described as a purely social engagement involving only the two men and their wives. If John R. Bolton came up, neither side said so afterward.

Powell, ostensibly Bolton's boss at State for four years, pointedly refused to support him for the United Nations job and privately offered a frank assessment to GOP senators who solicited his input. Powell's former chief of staff, Lawrence B. Wilkerson, publicly declared that Bolton would be an "abysmal ambassador." Other former State Department officials detailed allegations of ill-tempered mistreatment of subordinates.

Asked about the matter recently, Powell rejected suggestions that he had been "underhanded" by speaking with the senators. "When Republican members of my party called me for my views on certain aspects of his nomination, I gave those views," he told U.S. News & World Report. "The senators I talked to, after listening to my views, indicated they probably would support him. Fine. Nothing underhanded about that."

He added: "I'm pretty supportive of the president. I'm very proud of what we accomplished together, the freeing of Afghanistan, of Iraq. But where I may have a different point of view, I will express that different point of view."

If the two did not discuss Bolton at dinner, they may have talked about the mass killings in the Darfur region of Sudan. The next day, in a break with the United Nations and some administration officials, Bush told reporters that he agreed with Powell who had deemed the situation a genocide.


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