Kathryn, I agree with you that Rick Perry would be well-advised to put some distance between himself and Rev. Jeffress, but William Donohue, a man who once said that “radical atheists” should “apologize” for Hitler (almost certainly not an atheist, incidentally) is perhaps not the individual best placed to object to those who would “demonize” theological difference. That said, Mr. Donohue is, of course, perfectly entitled to his views about atheists or anyone or anything else, just as others are entitled to rebut them. We are too nervous about robust religious debate in this country. If someone happens to believe that another’s religion (or irreligion) is “false” or, for that matter, the work of Old Nick, what of it? What matters is not what people believe, but what they do, and if they can agree to differ in a reasonably civilized manner that ought to be enough. Tolerance is the acceptance, however pained, of difference, not its denial.
So what should Perry do? These rituals of apology/distancing (call it what you will) have become an unpleasant part of today’s PC circus (and that’s PC of all political persuasions). That’s a shame. Nevertheless, we are where we are and the governor should explain that when it comes to matters of faith, Jeffress speaks for Jeffress, not Perry, and leave it at that. If Perry is then asked more questions about what he thinks about such questions, he should explain.
On the wider topic of whether a presidential candidate’s religious affiliations should be something that should be immune from comment and criticism, the answer is no. If a candidate insists that his or her God is central to who they are and what they believe, that’s a fair enough thing to say, but, under those circumstances, it’s no less fair for voters (or political rivals) to ask what that might mean for how that candidate might act as president, and, if they don’t like the answer, to say so or vote so.