Of Politics And Piety: How I Spent My National Day Of Prayer

"During the Bush years, the Dobsons and other Religious Right leaders were given special access to the White House. That seems to have come to an end, and I am glad," said the Rev. Barry W Lynn.

Yesterday, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation recognizing the National Day of Prayer (NDP). He called on Americans to "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."

Obama saluted the men and women of the armed forces and added, "We recognize that it is because of them that we continue to live in a Nation where people of all faiths can worship or not worship according to the dictates of their conscience."

The proclamation was issued from the White House at approximately 3:45 p.m. -- the president was late to the party.

There has been an annual congressionally mandated National Day of Prayer since 1952 and it's been the first Thursday in May since 1988. During the administration of George W. Bush, the president scheduled special worship services in the White House, and a member of his cabinet would join Religious Right leaders at the U.S. Capitol in celebrating the NDP.

Festivities on the Hill would start before 9:00 a.m. as citizens lined up on the steps of the Capitol to read verses aloud from the Bible, and religious melodies would infiltrate the brick walls that separate meeting rooms.

Along with my AU colleague Maria, I decided that this year I would like to check out what all the fuss was about. (After all, the reason I have been quiet on the blogging front is because I have been dealing with a serious and personal illness -- I figured, if nothing else, maybe I could use the prayer.)

However, after taking the short walk from AU headquarters to the front steps of the Capitol, what we found was surprisingly little fuss. There was a podium for Bible reading on Capitol lawn, but there were a ton more tourists interested in watching for albino squirrels than there were Christians interested in professing their faith in public.

All in all, this year's day of prayer was quite similar to those of the past. Allies of the Religious Right used the occasion as a chance to attack church-state separation. Rep J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) again introduced the same tired resolution he introduced last year affirming that the "religious foundations of faith on which America was built...[are] inseparable for America's representative processes, legal systems, and societal structures."

In other words, Forbes thinks there is no separation between religion and government.

Forbes claimed that the resolution will be a successful bipartisan effort but in fact, it most likely will not even see debate on the House floor. The "bipartisan" support includes 32 registered Republican cosponsors and one Democratic representative Mike McIntyre of North Carolina.

At around noon, I walked into the Cannon House Office Building to find a room of the who's-who from the Religious Right. Led by Dr. James Dobson and his wife Shirley of Focus on the Family, hands rose towards the sky and booming voices sang songs of salvation, supplemented by the murmuring "amens" that swept through the rows of seats.

I was genuinely underwhelmed.

This year's National Day of Prayer was nothing more than a dog-and-pony show: an opportunity for the same typical rightwingers to parade around the same old misguided ideas about a "Christian nation" founded on "Judeo-Christian" principles.

Just last month, President Obama stated: "One of the great strengths of the United States is, although I have mentioned we have a very large Christian population, 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."

Now, he has his history straight.

While the Dobsons were offended by Obama's notable absence and "disappointed" that "the president missed a wonderful opportunity" to pray on national TV, I'm glad he stayed home.

"During the Bush years, the Dobsons and other Religious Right leaders were given special access to the White House. That seems to have come to an end, and I'm glad," said the Rev. Barry W Lynn. Maybe I should have stayed home too.

On the bright side, I do get to call my mother to tell her about my first week back to work.

"Mom," I'll say, "I went all the way down to the mall to witness the National Day of Prayer, and all I got was this lousy handshake."