Several members of Congress and one of America’s most prominent religious leaders criticized President Obama on Capitol Hill on Thursday for a seeming brush-off during National Day of Prayer observances and for not referring to America as a “Judeo-Christian” nation in remarks last month in Turkey.
“We are disappointed at the lack of emphasis on prayer at the National Day of Prayer,” James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, told reporters at the Cannon House Office Building after a three-hour prayer observance.
“There are tens of millions of people praying across this country - 40,000 prayer events taking place today - and yet for the first time since 1993, the White House did not even send a representative of the Cabinet to the National Day of Prayer.
“Bill Clinton did during his eight years,” Mr. Dobson continued. “It goes clear on back to Ronald Reagan making the first Thursday of May the National Day of Prayer … and in recent years, certainly there has been a White House presence but there’s not today.”
The White House press office issued a photo of the president signing a proclamation observing the event in the Oval Office, flanked by Josh Dubois, head of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
In part, the proclamation said the president calls on “Americans to pray in thanksgiving for our freedoms and blessings and to ask for God’s continued guidance, grace and protection for this land that we love.”
It also took note of the “service and sacrifice” of those in the armed forces and referred to the economic downturn by calling on Americans “to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and to lift up those who have fallen on hard times.”
Those who observe the day of prayer, it added, should “remember the one law that binds all great religions together: the Golden Rule, and its call to love one another, to understand one another, and to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.”
Several members of Congress appeared at the service to announce House Resolution 397, dubbed “America’s Spiritual Heritage Resolution.” It outlines 73 “spiritual milestones” in America’s past, such as “In God We Trust” being added to American coinage in 1864.
“We think it’s high time to affirm the great spiritual heritage of our nation and what better time to do it than the first week of May?” said Rep. Mike McIntyre, North Carolina Democrat.
The Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State called the proposed bill “a seriously distorted view of religion in American history” and denounced it as “the latest backdoor attempt to try to declare America an officially Christian nation.”
Members of Congress also criticized remarks by Mr. Obama last month that “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.”
“I would suggest that there were two questions needed to be asked and answered that he missed,” said Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Virginia Republican and co-chairman of the congressional prayer caucus. “The first one was whether or not we ever were a Judeo-Christian nation. And the second one is, if we were, when is that moment … that we ceased to be so.”
“He’s bought into this lie that this nation is not Christian,” said Rep. Paul Broun, Georgia Republican. “Historically, he’s just wrong.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican, agreed, saying that “it’s just a fact our nation was overwhelmingly Christian.”
During the Bush years, there was a formal early morning prayer ceremony in the East Room to which Mr. Dobson and his wife, Shirley, who is chairwoman of the National Day of Prayer task force, had front-row seats.
“When the professional baseball team wins the World Series or when the Super Bowl is played or when college teams win the national championship, they are invited to the White House to celebrate,” Mr. Dobson said. “That’s important, apparently, but celebrating prayer … is ignored.”