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Perry defends religion comments about Obama

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry of Texas spoke to supporters yesterday in Charleston, S.C. alice keeney/associated press

Rick Perry, hoping to revive his campaign by appealing to Christian conservatives in Iowa, today defended his assertion that President Obama has declared a “war on religion,” and said he would organize a national day of prayer in a time of crisis.

In an interview with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register, the Texas governor argued that two of Obama’s appointees to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, are “activist” judges opposed to the free expression of religion.

“I do think that this president is conducting what I consider to be an attack on traditional religious organizations and/or traditional religious values by those two examples,” Perry said.

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But in a reminder of the gaffes that have plagued his campaign, Perry initially struggled to remember Sotomayor’s name - “not Montemayor,” he said -- and also misstated the number of justices on the court, lamenting the court’s “eight unelected” judges. There are nine justices.

Perry has been focusing on social issues, religion, and gay rights in an effort to court the evangelical voters who make up a sizable portion of Iowa caucus-goers. In his interview today, the governor, who held a massive prayer rally in Houston in August, said he would hold a similar event, if elected president.

“The idea that I wouldn’t would be counter to who I am,” Perry said. “If Americans want to elect a president who basically says I’m not going to let my faith intervene in anything I do would be a bit — from my perspective – would be a bit scary.”

Perry has been criticized by gay rights groups for his new focus on religion and gay rights. Some of his own aides have said they disagreed with his decision earlier in the week to release an ad that criticizes gays serving openly in the military.

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“You don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school,” Perry says in the ad. “As president, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.”

While it remains to be seen whether the ad strikes a positive chord with Iowa Republicans, it has not gone over well on the Internet. About 12,500 viewers have “liked” the video on YouTube. But more than 480,000 viewers have “disliked” it.


Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.