In these turbulent times, our elected leaders need to be working nonstop on our behalf. Instead, many of the nation's top officials will be soon wasting their time at a prayer breakfast ceremony.
On Thursday, Feb. 2, more than 3,000 bigwigs (mostly American but also from other countries) will participate in a "National Prayer Breakfast" at a fancy hotel in Washington, D.C. "Every year this long-standing event is held on the first Thursday of February to serve as a forum for over 3,000 attendees from around the world to assemble, make connections, and hear from distinguished speakers, including the U.S. president," states a description of the event.
Although the National Prayer Breakfast is technically sponsored by the Fellowship Foundation, which is dedicated to "the teachings and precepts of Jesus," the name itself and the blurring of lines between the public and the private makes it seem like a governmental affair. "The U.S. Congress hosts the National Prayer Breakfast, and the Christian organization, The Fellowship Foundation, organizes the event on their behalf," a website revealingly says.
A further indication of the official blessing that the gala receives is a joint op-ed written by two senators, one Democrat and the other Republican, endorsing the get-together.
"As co-chairs of the 65th annual National Prayer Breakfast, which will take place on Thursday, Feb. 2, we hope Delawareans, Arkansans, and all Americans will join us in celebrating an event that seeks to offer our nation a respite from the grind of partisan politics," Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., & John Boozman, R-Ark., write in the Washington Examiner. "This year, following an election that often felt unprecedented in its divisiveness and acrimony, we believe Americans of all backgrounds and faiths will be well-served by an inclusive, positive, forward-looking event that seeks to bring us together. From the freedoms of religion and speech that are etched in our Constitution, to the traditions, institutions, and norms on which our democracy depends, the National Prayer Breakfast is a living example of some of our nation's most fundamental principles."
As the nation's largest nontheistic organization dedicated to upholding the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, we beg to differ. The National Prayer Breakfast, instead of serving "Americans of all backgrounds," further enshrines the place of worship and religion in our political setup, acting contrary to our godless Constitution.
Sadly, our politicians don't seem to care. Members of Congress, the president and other prominent policymakers invariably and dutifully show up to pray and be prayed at during the expensive breakfast. They are afraid to be no-shows, and by their continuing participation bolster the godly gathering.
The Fellowship (also known as "The Family"), which organizes the occasion, has been the subject of an investigative book by journalist Jeff Sharlet, "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power." In it, he documented that the annual breakfast is the outward face of a rather sinister evangelical organization.
The group "grows out of this very broad movement in the 1930s of elites concluding that democracy has run its course, that democracy was a temporary phase in world history," Sharlet said in an interview about his book. "So, these people were experimenting with all sorts of different alternatives. Remember, before World War II it was considered a perfectly legitimate and acceptable position to endorse fascism."
The Fellowship is free to invite whomever it chooses and hold any religious assembly it likes. But our secular president and Congress should not give these occasions their blessings or attend in their official capacities.
In addition to marginalizing nonbelievers, the presence of our topmost office-bearers at a shindig organized by such a cultish organization makes it appear as if the U.S. government endorses a fringe movement within one particular religion. Unfortunately, since the event's inception in the 1950s, the breakfast has become almost a must-attend for those inside the Beltway, even more so because it gives them a chance to rub elbows and bend the knee with autocrats and theocrats from around the world. (Jordan's King Abdullah is among the attendees this year, reportedly giving President Trump an opportunity to assuage him about the new U.S. visa rules.)
We have enough piety shaping our country's policies under the new administration. Our officials should instead be faithful to our secular Constitution and stop annually endorsing such an overtly religious event.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national state/church watchdog organization with more than 26,000 nonreligious members and chapters all over the country.