Backlash brewing over prayer rally Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal planning at LSU; religious group planning event opposes gay marriage, other rights efforts

A backlash is brewing over a prayer rally featuring Gov. Bobby Jindal, scheduled for LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center next month.

LSU students, faculty and other activists have come out against the event, called “The Response,” largely because it’s being paid for by the American Family Association, a controversial conservative religious group that opposes gay marriage and other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights efforts. A protest has been planned in response to The Response, and a petition has gained hundreds of signatures in just a matter of days.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has described the Tupelo, Mississippi-based AFA as “some of the most hateful anti-gay voices in America” and has classified the organization as a hate group. A prayer guide that was posted to the website for The Response sought to tie natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, to a growth in the acceptance of same-sex marriage and abortion.

“It’s, unfortunately, not uncommon for these types of ideas to be perpetuated and spoken, even by important figures such as our governor,” said LSU student Peter Jenkins, who is gay and has organized a protest of the Jan. 24 event. “I can’t say I’m surprised, but it’s still disappointing and it’s hurtful.”

Jindal spokeswoman Shannon Bates responded that the prayer rally is open to everyone.

“I hope those coming to protest will come out on Jan. 24 and decide to join us inside for prayer,” Bates wrote in an email. “It’s going to be a great event worshiping the Lord and praying for our nation.”

The event has been publicized among Christian-right circles for more than a month. The Advocate first reported on it early last week after Jindal began promoting The Response on his official Twitter account. A “national invitation” from Jindal — on official state letterhead — appears on the event’s website. A color advertisement for the event that recently ran in The Advocate also featured Jindal.

During a 78-second video posted online, the Republican governor has billed The Response as “a time of prayer, fasting, repentance and celebration.”

“What we really need in these United States is a spiritual reminder,” Jindal says in the video. “It is time to turn back to God.”

Organizers say they expect the event will cost about half a million dollars to put on.

The prayer rally’s timing plays into Jindal’s possible political aspirations, as the term-limited governor is expected to announce whether he will run for president early next year. The move appears to be ripped from the playbook of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who held “The Response” in Houston prior to his run for president in 2011. The Texas rally also was paid for by the American Family Association and sparked protests.

AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer said the backlash over the Louisiana rally doesn’t come as a surprise.

“It doesn’t bother us that the bullies and bigots of ‘Big Gay’ have come after this event,” Fischer said in a phone interview with The Advocate on Tuesday. “The more they bang on their pots and pans, the more it makes people aware of our prayer rally.”

Fischer said his group stands “for traditional moral values and natural law.”

Chris Barrett, an associate English professor at LSU, said she was shocked to hear that an AFA-sponsored event would be held on LSU’s campus.

“I could not imagine that the university would welcome such a presence on the campus,” she said. “Horrified is the word I would use.”

Barrett is among faculty members who have sent letters to LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander in opposition to the event. She said she hasn’t heard back from him.

“If this event happens on campus, I plan to spend the whole day in front of the PMAC protesting it,” Barrett said. “I’m very much hoping that the university administration will rectify this.”

In response to a public records request The Advocate filed last week, LSU said the university “does not yet have a fully executed agreement for this event.”

“LSU’s association with this event is limited to the rental of the facility. LSU does not regulate non-university related functions. Rental of an LSU facility does not imply any endorsement,” the university said in a written statement.

Jenkins, the student protest organizer, said he doesn’t hold LSU at fault.

“I’m mad at (AFA) and Bobby Jindal,” Jenkins said. “Our protest is not anti-Christian; it’s anti hate group.”

Jindal, who describes himself as an “evangelical Catholic,” doesn’t support same-sex marriage.

“Governor Jindal is obviously a political leader who understands the importance and need for a spiritual revival for our nation,” Fischer said of Jindal’s role in the event.

David Lane, a Christian conservative political activist who is helping organize the prayer rally, said he expects Jindal will be “very involved,” in addition to being its featured guest.

“He’s leading it from Louisiana,” Lane said.

Jindal repeatedly has said he will announce his plans for 2016 in the first half of next year. In the meantime, Jindal has made multiple trips to Washington, D.C., and early presidential primary states like New Hampshire and Iowa; repeatedly appeared on national news programs; criticized President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and continued to ramp up interest in a potential campaign for president.

Lane, who has family ties to Baton Rouge and has organized “Pastors & Pews” events for conservative politicians across the country, said he isn’t sure how many people will make it to The Response, but the Texas event drew more than 35,000.

“There’s nothing political about it,” Lane said. “It will be fasting and prayer for America.”

Barrett, the professor, said she believes that the event is politically motivated.

“I find it galling any time hate is deployed in the service of political action,” she said.

Lane, who also helped organize Jindal’s inaugural prayer breakfast in 2008, said he doesn’t know whether Jindal will run for president. He said he’d need to know the full GOP slate before deciding who to back for the GOP nomination.

He said he also isn’t bothered by the protest plans.

“If they feel like that’s what they need to do, then they’re going to protest fasting and prayer,” he said. “I don’t know why anyone would want to protest that, but that’s their right.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.

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