The Separation of Church and State

The National Prayer Breakfast is an anachronism that should go away

  Rob Boston

Today was the National Prayer Breakfast (NPB). Americans United is not fond of this event.

The NPB, Americans United has pointed out over the years, is a relic of the misbegotten “civil religion” era of the 1950s. For years the event was sponsored by the Fellowship Foundation (AKA “The Family”), a shadowy Christian Nationalist organization with the chief aim of promoting fundamentalist Christianity among people of wealth, power and status. (You know, just like Jesus did!)

The Family held the event in Washington, D.C., hotels for decades but relinquished control of it last year – kind of. This year, the prayer breakfast took place in the Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol, which actually makes things worse by drawing it closer to the seat of government. (Plus, several people connected to The Family are still involved.)

‘It divides the country on religious lines’

As AU President and CEO Rachel Laser told reporters, “Our public officials should not be organizing and promoting religious worship services in government buildings because it divides the country on religious lines, favoring a select few and making everyone else feel unwelcome.”

Indeed, today’s event was replete with prayers “in Jesus’ name” and references to the Christian faith, sending the message that other faiths and non-belief hold second-class status in America.

The president and other federal and state officials routinely attend the NPB. While the breakfast is often an occasion for platitudes about the importance of religion (mostly Christianity) in America, during the presidency of Donald Trump, the event became alternately horrifying and embarrassing, as Trump used it to unveil disturbing policy proposals, put his biblical illiteracy on display and belittle his political opponents.

Biden and the NPB

President Joe Biden’s NPB remarks have been more inclusive and less embarrassing – and his comments this morning weren’t controversial – but saying that an event isn’t as bad as it was during the Trump years is hardly a ringing endorsement.

In light of the growing diversity of religious thought in America and the fact that we have a First Amendment that separates church and state, it’s time to consign the National Prayer Breakfast to the dustbin of history.

P.S. Jonathan Larsen, a former reporter with the Young Turks, has been doing a deep dive on The Family and the prayer breakfast on his Substack page. (Just be warned that the title of his page is a tad spicy.)

Photo: President Joe Biden and House Speaker Mike Johnson at the National Prayer Breakfast. Screenshot from C-SPAN.


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