Prayer breakfast bipartisan insult to Constitution, FFRF contends

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Top GOP and Democratic officials — led by President Trump — will be jointly insulting our secular Constitution this week. On Thursday, Feb. 7, thousands of political bigwigs will participate in a “National Prayer Breakfast” in Washington, D.C.

“The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual gathering in Washington, D.C., that draws 3,500 people from all over the world,” boasts the organizers’ website. “During this event, the President of the United States, representatives from more than 120 nations, leaders from all areas of the United States government, and individuals from various walks of life come together.”

Although the breakfast is technically sponsored by the private 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 revealed for the 2017 event

A further indication of the bipartisan blessing showered on the gala is how many prominent Democrats are involved, too. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., is a main organizer.

“One of Coons’ closest spiritual confidants is Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., with whom he co-chairs both the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast and the annual National Prayer Breakfast,” says a Religion News Service article. 

In other contexts, all this across-the-aisle bonhomie perhaps would be cause for celebration. But when an event further enshrines the place of worship and religion in our political setup, acting contrary to our godless Constitution — as the National Prayer Breakfast does — it’s reason for alarm.

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, FFRF contends. 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.

The event has of late become even more dubious, acquiring the traits of a bad spy novel.

“On the guest list in recent years was [convicted Russian agent] Maria Butina, looking to meet high-level American officials and advance the interests of the Russian state, and Yulia Tymoshenko, a Ukranian opposition leader, seeking a few minutes with President Trump to burnish her credentials as a presidential prospect back home,” the New York Times reported last July. “Their presence at the breakfast illuminates the way the annual event has become an international influence-peddling bazaar, where foreign dignitaries, religious leaders, diplomats and lobbyists jockey for access to the highest reaches of American power.”

Our nation’s top lawmakers should stop endorsing such a shady affair by their presence. The National Prayer Breakfast makes a mockery of our secular Constitution and serves to undermine our political system, as well.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national state/church watchdog organization with more than 31,000 nonreligious members and chapters all over the country.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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