Conservative religious groups roundly criticized President Obama last Thursday for what the Associated Press called his “muted” observance of National Prayer Day. Traditionally, during George W. Bush’s administration, Shirley Dobson, the chairwoman of National Day of Prayer Task Force, which organizes the prayer day festivities, would celebrate the day of prayer at the White House. This year, President Barack Obama said he would observe the day with a private prayer only.
Dobson said she was disappointed in the president’s decision. She said the president should understand the importance of prayer for Americans. “At this time in our country’s history, we would hope our President would recognize more fully the importance of prayer,” said Dobson.
The Family Research Council said Obama’s decision to not have a big White House prayer event constituted a “de-emphasis on prayer.”
James Dobson (Shirley’s husband), an Evangelical author, radio host and founder of the Conservative Christian organization Focus On The Family, said that he was “disappointed” that there was no representative from the White House during the National Day of Prayer event.
“I have not asked to meet with the president and certainly he has not asked to meet with me, but I would just like this country to remember its foundation, to remember its heritage and honor it, especially on the day set aside by George Washington in the beginning for prayer in this country,” he said. “And I would hope that that would have occurred.”
Dobson and his wife were organizers of a four-hour program on Capitol Hill marking the nationwide day designated by Congress as a day of prayer, which brought together members of Congress, military leaders, ministers and an NFL star. The National Day of Prayer. This event began under President Truman and really didn’t morph into something new until eight years ago, when President George W. Bush began holding formal White House observances for the National Day of Prayer with the Dobsons. This year, however, President Obama ended the tradition, choosing instead to only sign a proclamation and pray privately. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that the president starts each day with a private prayer.
The proclamation wasn’t enough, according to the National Day of Prayer Task Force. The conservative group wanted the day celebrated like it had been for previous eight years under George W. Bush. As one might expect, the Far Right was breathless in its condemnation of this apparent attack on (their) religion. One of the de facto leaders of the Republican party made it sound like President Obama had outlawed religion. Rush Limbaugh, not Michael Steele, railed against the president for deviating from his predecessor.
“President Obama has announced that he is canceling the public day of prayer, the National Day of Prayer, that is tomorrow, at the White House,” Limbaugh said. Before launching into the stratosphere, Limbaugh correctly explained that Obama was “just changing the policy that was in place for eight years of the Bush administration.”
But then the talk show host couldn’t resist… “Why do this?” he asked. “Why go out of your way to do this? Why make these type of waves unnecessarily? He’s doing this on purpose. He’s trying to irritate some people. He’s asserting his authoritarian control.”
“They say he prays privately,” Limbaugh said. “I have no doubt. Who does he pray to? Does he pray to himself?”
Of course, the Obama White House didn’t see it the same way. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was not asked if Obama prayed to himself on Thursday, but was questioned about why there was a change.
“I think the President understands, in his own life and in his family’s life, the role that prayer plays,” Gibbs said. “And I would denote that administrations prior to the past one did proclamations. That’s the way the President will publicly observe National Prayer Day. But as I said, privately he’ll pray as he does every day.”
For a moment I sort of wondered if Limbaugh might have a point. Why antagonize the Far Right by refusing to participate in the National Day of Prayer ceremonies, even if they have been taken over by the Christian Religious Right and turned into a celebration of Conservative (read Republican) values? President Obama could have sent a representative, at least, to keep the peace.
Then I found out why the White House was so determined to distance itself from these people.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., and James and Shirley Dobson, had already announced that they would take part in a news conference in Washington, D.C. on Thursday (the National Day of Prayer) to help reintroduce a bill that calls for naming the first week of May “Religious History Week.”
The bill, called the Spiritual Heritage Resolution, was written by Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus initiative. The bill was first introduced in 2007, and details how politics and religion have overlapped throughout America’s history. Twelve congressmen and several faith leaders, including the Dobsons and Gary Bauer of American Values, took part in the news conference, which was held immediately after the National Day of Prayer Task Force observance. By the way, the Colorado Springs-based Prayer Task Force is led by Shirley Dobson of Colorado Springs, the very same wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.
See a pattern here? Apparently, the National Day of Prayer has been hijacked by James and Shirley Dobson, Gary Bauer, and their organizations, Focus On The Family and American Values, among others. The National Day of Prayer is no longer a secular proclamation encouraging Americans to pray, but a religious and political celebration controlled by some of the most virulently anti-Democracy, anti-Democratic and anti-Choice people in the entire country; people who are determined to marginalize non-Christians, disenfranchise gays and lesbians, and dismantle American-style democracy in favor of a more theocratic form of government. No one but these Kool-Aid drinkers could have any doubt as to why President Obama chose to remove from their clutches the inferred legitimacy of the office of President of the United States.
Instead of kissing their asses as his predecessor had done, President Obama one-upped the Far Right by issuing a simple Proclamation.
Obama’s reservations put him in good company. Thomas Jefferson opposed declarations of national days of prayer by the Federal government, writing:
“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.”
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.”
But perhaps the best company President Obama could be in with regard to this issue is Jesus Christ himself, who said:
“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.”
Amen! James and Shirley Dobson should go back to Colorado and read their Bibles. Maybe then they will stop trying to use the office of the President of the United States and the National Day of Prayer for their own political advantage, and show the kind of humility and faith that is the hallmark of a true Christian. While they’re at it, they should take that old drug addict Rush Limbaugh with them. And every politician who tried to turn the National Day of Prayer in a Neo-Conservative, Right-Wing event that excluded millions of Americans. Maybe if they all re-located out there in the back-waters of Colorado they might have time for reflection, and then the politicians might realize that James and Shirley Dobson, and Gary Bauer, and all of their religious hypocritical ilk, are the reason the Republican party has found itself wandering in the political wilderness.
President Obama, you made a good call.