Bad Breakfast: Do Congressional Chaplains Plan To Spend Inauguration Morning With Religious And Political Extremists?

The congressional chaplains should make it clear that they won't be having breakfast with Islamophobes and Obama haters.

Washington is abuzz with preparations for Monday’s inauguration. A number of events, private and public, are taking place.

Among them is something called the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Breakfast (PIPB), which takes place Monday morning at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.

Despite its name, this is not an official inaugural event. It’s sponsored by a variety of fundamentalist Christian groups and “messianic” Jews. Featured guests include TV preacher Pat Robertson, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Joseph Farah, founder of the website WorldNetDaily.

Normally, I would think this is no big deal. Some fundamentalists have rented space in a hotel to pray on the morning of the inauguration. It’s a free country; let them have at it.

But for one thing: A website promoting the event lists both congressional chaplains as special guests who will participate in a “Prayer for the Nation.” Barry C. Black, Senate chaplain, and the Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, House of Representatives chaplain, are both listed.

But do they plan to attend? It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on. A staffer in Black’s office told Mother Jones that he will not be there – but event organizers insist that Black has agreed to come.

The situation with Conroy is also murky. Mother Jones was unable to reach him, but it’s worth noting that Conroy is listed twice on the PIPB website as a member of the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Breakfast Committee, which would indicate an ongoing relationship with the group.

Black and Conroy should make it clear that they won’t attend this event and cut any ties they may have to this organization. They should do it today in unambiguous language.

Although the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Breakfast is described as a non-partisan and interfaith event, one need only look at the list of special guests to expose its true nature. This is a collection of people drawn from the extreme right of American politics. They’re a band of Muslim-bashers who hate President Barack Obama and have spent the past four years spreading lies about him.

Consider Farah, the founder of WorldNetDaily (WND). This site is, to be blunt, a clearinghouse for daft right-wing conspiracy theorists and Obama haters. Even at this late date, WND continues to promote pathetic “birther” tales about Obama as well as claims that he’s not a Christian. (The site currently advertises a magazine bearing a photo of Obama headlined, “The First Muslim President.”) No lie about the president is too outrageous for this crowd. There’s a reason people call this site “WorldNutDaily.”

Robertson’s record of extremism is well known. He has asserted that Obama is really a socialist bent on destroying the free enterprise system. Every few days, Robertson says something offensive on his “700 Club.” A few days ago, he advised a teenager who wrote in with concerns about his parents’ marriage that such difficulties are often caused by “hard-nosed” women who are “awful looking.”

During her tenure in Congress, Bachmann has raised Islamophobia to an art form. In July, Bachmann was among a five-member congressional cuckoo caucus that attacked Huma Abedin, a top deputy of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, accusing her of being part of a fantastic Muslim conspiracy to take over the nation. Their evidence for this was – well, they didn’t have any.

If Black and Conroy have in fact not agreed to spend the morning of the inauguration with a boisterous band of bigoted Obama bashers, they should make that clear. (Black especially ought to know better; he has been busted for this sort of thing before.)

The presence of the House and Senate chaplains at this event would be an insult to the president and to the members of Congress that these two pledged to serve in a non-partisan manner. It would show disrespect for the fundamental American value of tolerance.

I urge Black and Conroy to do the right thing and make it clear to the extremists of the Religious Right that they’ll be elsewhere on Monday morning.

P.S. Of course, embarrassing incidents like this could be avoided if we didn’t have taxpayer-funded chaplains in Congress. It’s time to pull the plug on all forms of government-supported religion.

Note: Americans United will be closed on Monday for the Inuaguration and the observance of Martin Luther King's birthday. "The Wall of Separation" will be on hiatus.