President Obama, unlike President Bush 43, but like most previous chief executives, is not attending a breakfast for National Prayer Day, and not taking part in a formal early morning service. He is, however, signing a proclamation that sets aside the first Thursday of May as the National Day of Prayer, which has been a tradition since 1952. This has certain conservatives and evangelicals up in arms to the point where they are knocking his commitment to his faith.
Predictably, National Day of Prayer chairwoman Shirley Dobson (wife of Focus on Family's James), says her group is disappointed by lack of participation by the Obama administration. "At this time in our country's history, we would hope our president would recognize more fully the importance of prayer," said Mrs. Dobson, who occupied a prominent seat in the front row for the ceremonies during the Bush administration.
But Mrs. Dobson's comments are mild in comparison to the reaction from Concerned Women for America's president, Wendy Wright. "For those of us who have our doubts about Obama's faith, no, we did not expect him to have the service," said Wright. "But as president, he should put his own lack of faith asideand live up to the office." [Emphasis added.]
Just where is the screed that the office of the presidency of the United States requires faith? Where is that stated in the Constitution? Where is it written that faith is even a requirement for public office in this country?
I find Ms. Wright's comments as outrageous as she thinks Obama's lack of participation in the National Day of Prayer is -- especially since she wields this as a club to suggest the president is without faith -- which is both beside the point and untrue. What a wonderful way to use religion; to club someone over the head.
Wright, who refused the opportunity to come on my radio showto defend her position, also used the occasion to attack Obama for his recent comments in Turkey that America does not consider itself a Christian nation, complaining,
"It's almost like Obama is trying to remake America into his own image. This is not a rejection of Shirley Dobson; it's a rejection of the concept that America is a spiritual nation and its foundation is Judeo-Christian."
Of course, what Obama actually said was:
"We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation, or a Jewish nation, or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."
Officially, we are not a Christian nation, much as that upsets those who want the government to declare it as such.
It's ironic that many of the same conservatives who preach small government, nevertheless want big brother to acknowledge and sanctify their religious beliefs. But the 1776 Treaty of Tropolistates, "[As] the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;" and we are supposed to adhere to what treaties say, even if Bush Co wishes to disregard little annoyances like the Geneva Convention.
Americans United for Separation of Church and Statereminds us what Jesus said about public prayer. Matthew 6:5-7states:
"When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."
It's a shame that groups like the Independent Women's Forum have such a problem with Jesus. They also have a problem with the founding fathers. President James Madison proclaimed a day of prayer. He later said such proclamations are not appropriate. "They seem to imply and certainly nourish the erroneous idea of a national religion."
"Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and right can never be safer than in their hands, where the Constitution has deposited it." And although President James Madison proclaimed a day of prayer, he eventually reversed course and said such proclamations "seem to imply and certainly nourish the erroneous idea of a national religion."
Obama is not attending the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast that is held in conjunction with National Day of Prayer, but it's important to note that, if he went, he would not be allowed to speak. Spokesman Joe Cella says the president is welcome to attend, but a 2004 directive from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says pro-choice politicians should not be publicly honored. And the president did attendFebruary's National Prayer Breakfast which has been an annual event since 1953. Furthermore, let's not forget that an online petition put out by the conservative Cardinal Newman Society is protesting Obama's planned May 17 appearance at Notre Dame. So, while Obama speaks about bringing people together, and the plurality of religious practices that make a great nation, it's some of those who oppose him who use religion to divide.