Private Prayer, Public Space

President Obama broke with tradition again by marking the National Day of Prayer but not with a public ceremony in the East Room as has been the practice of his predecessor. Under the unabashedly pro-“faith” Bush administration, the White House hosted an interfaith service each year, inviting Protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders. Presidents Reagan and Bush 1 also held White House observances. Today, Mr. Obama signed a proclamation but kept his prayers private.

“Prayer is something that the president does everyday,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs explained. “I think the president understands, in his own life and in his family’s life, the role that prayer plays.”

As to be expected, there are those who are not happy with the latest presidential antic. Shirley Dobson, wife of the most righteous James Dobson and chairwoman of the National Day of Prayer Committee, issued a statement which reads,

We are disappointed in the 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.

Atheists are not too thrilled by the proclamation either. Trina Hoaks of the Atheism Examiner writes,

As you might imagine, this dismays (to put it mildly) many secularists, humanists, and atheists across the nation. Hasn’t this country been under the influence of religion and pointless prayer for long enough for the point to have been driven home that this approach doesn’t work? We just came out of one of the darkest periods in this country’s history and the country is in a shambles. Doesn’t that tell us anything? Will we ever learn? It is time to move away from the nonsensical stranglehold that religion has on this country. Proclaiming yet another National Day of Prayer is a move in the wrong direction.

Then, there are those who are perfectly fine with Mr. Obama’s choice. Rev. C. Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance issued a statement which says,

President Obama did the right thing today by issuing a proclamation for the National Day of Prayer that is inclusive of all Americans. We must cherish the freedom in this country to pray or not to pray.

The reality is that we don’t need our elected leaders to instruct us in the ways of religion just as we don’t need our religious leaders to tell us for whom to vote. However, if we are going to have such a day, I am glad to see that this president understands that it should be inclusive.

I think prayer has its place. In private, within the confines of a religious space, or among people who have chosen on their own accord to gather for the sole and express purpose of praying. Not in the commons inhabited by citizens of various beliefs as well as a good number – 16% – who do not claim any religion.

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