White House Downplays National Day of Prayer

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

Today’s National Day of Prayer will receive scant attention from the Obama Administration as the president breaks from tradition and nixes a formal morning prayer service.  He also decided not to attend a large Catholic prayer breakfast tomorrow morning.

According to the White House, the President plans no formal events to mark the day other than to sign the official proclamation honoring the day.

The National Day of Prayer originated in 1952 when Congress set aside the first Thursday in May for the event. For the past eight years, President George W. Bush invited selected Christian and Jewish leaders to the White House East Room, where he typically would give a short speech and several leaders offered prayers. 

When asked about the president’s decision not to mark the day with any kind of special service, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said on May 5 that the president was reverting to “pre-Bush” administration practices.
However, the National Day of Prayer was observed at the White House during the administration of President Ronald Reagan as well as President George H. W. Bush. There was no formal recognition of the day while President Bill Clinton was in office.

“Prayer is something the president does every day,” Gibbs said about Obama’s plans for the day. “We’re doing a proclamation, which I know that many administrations in the past have done.”

When pressed by reporters as to the lack of a formal ceremony, Mr. Gibbs said the proclamation was Mr. Obama’s choice.

“That’s the way the president will publicly observe National Prayer Day — privately he’ll pray as he does every day,” he said.

Shirley Dobson, chairwoman of the National Day of Prayer Committee, said the group was “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.”

Republican Congressman Randy Forbes, co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, said a proclamation urging Americans to pray would be more meaningful if the president set a public example. Forbes calls it a missed opportunity, but says, “Hopefully we’ll have millions of people around the country that will make up for the void we see at the White House on the National Day of Prayer.”

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