President Obama is distancing himself from the National Day of Prayer by nixing a formal early morning service and not attending a large Catholic prayer breakfast the following morning.
All Mr. Obama will do for the National Day of Prayer, which is Thursday, is sign a proclamation honoring the day, which 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.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that the president simply is reverting to pre-Bush administration practice.
"Prayer is something the president does every day," he said. "We're doing a proclamation, which I know that many administrations in the past have done."
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," said Mrs. Dobson, who occupied a prominent seat in the front row for the ceremonies during the Bush administration.