One would think President Donald Trump would need a break after spewing the fusillade of nonsense that was his State of the Union address, but no such luck – he’ll be back tomorrow with more at the National Prayer Breakfast (NPB).
We don’t know what Trump will say at the NPB. Being Trump, it could be anything. But we do know he’ll take full advantage of this platform to pander to his base of evangelical Christian supporters. In 2017, Trump used the event to announce that he was signing an executive order undermining the Johnson Amendment, a federal law that protects the integrity of houses of worship by ensuring that they don’t get ensnared in partisan politics. The order was a typical Trump bombast – it was a lot of words but didn’t do anything. As a federal law, the Johnson Amendment can’t be overturned by an executive order.
At last year’s breakfast, Trump touted his administration’s efforts to allow taxpayer-funded, faith-based foster care and adoption agencies to reject qualified parents who are the “wrong” religion or LGBTQ – a policy that harms the nearly half-million children in foster care nationwide in search of loving families. And in 2018, Trump claimed, “America’s a nation of believers, and together we are strengthened by the power of prayer” – an insult to the millions of Americans who are not religious, do not pray or do not believe in a god.
We at Americans United will be watching tomorrow and will be ready to fight back against any attacks on religious freedom.
And in case anyone has forgotten, the Prayer Breakfast is a private event sponsored by the Family. Featured in a recent Netflix documentary, the Family is a secretive Christian nationalist organization that has built extensive and deep networks to influence high-level government officials both in the U.S. and around the world. Like Project Blitz, it’s part of the thriving and emboldened Christian nationalist political movement in America that is determined to undermine our constitutional commitment to religious freedom through the separation of religion and government.
Like Project Blitz, the Family operates largely behind closed doors. As the late Doug Coe, leader of the Family, said, “The more invisible you can make your organization, the more influence it will have.” These secretive societies meet year-round in private with federal and state lawmakers and their allies to lobby for policies that promote a regressive social agenda particularly harmful to LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities and the nonreligious.
It would be smart for U.S. elected officials to avoid the National Prayer Breakfast and the agenda it promotes. The president doesn’t have to attend, but they always do. Its roots go back to the 1950s and the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the era when “civil religion” became so prominent in American public life.
The breakfast has devolved into a litany of offensive “God and country” bromides that fail to take into account the rapidly changing religious demographics of the United States. With more and more Americans considering themselves nonreligious, the last thing we need is a bevy of political leaders implying that to be a true American, you must also be religious. Yet that’s often what we hear at the NPB.
The National Prayer Breakfast has outlived its usefulness – if it ever had any to begin with. Trump, who loves nothing more than to kowtow to his evangelical base, may revel in it, but it’s time for everyone else to skip this breakfast.
P.S. The Family’s agenda and the extent of its influence on American democracy was exposed by the meticulous investigating of Jeff Sharlet, an award-winning literary journalist, author of The New York Times bestseller The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power and C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy and executive producer of the Netflix documentary series based on the books. Sharlet will be the featured speaker at Americans United’s inaugural National Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C., March 22-24. More information is available here.
Photo: Screenshot of the 2019 National Prayer Breakfast from C-SPAN