An analysis of this year’s National Prayer Breakfast — a “Christ-centered” private event that Congress and a shadowy group co-organize each February — shows that progress is being made.
The National Prayer Breakfast, the brainchild of the nefarious Fellowship Foundation also known as “The Family,” for generations has been a knee-jerk, political “gotcha” event. Show up with religion on your sleeve — or else! It has been promoted as an “ecumenical” event and over the years has featured high-profile feel-good speakers such as Bono and Mother Teresa.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation and our membership last fall began asking members of Congress and the president not to give their “blessings” to this divisive, theocratic event. We pointed out it’s a “pay-to-pray-to-play” event with an unsavory history that has often included undemocratic and anti-LGBTQ guests of honor. It was even crashed in 2017 by a Russian spy who was later convicted. Gay rights groups have long protested it over a history that includes the sponsoring group’s ties to legislation in Uganda calling for imprisonment and execution of gays.
Our work has yielded dividends. FFRF is pleased that only five House Democrats and 11 Republicans were this year listed as “honorary House Committee” members. Notably, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not appear. Although she did not make a comment about it, her absence spoke for itself.
Those who lamentably attended this year formed a diverse group, ranging from Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Chris Coons (who told CNN he attended so that conservative members of Congress would know he’s a “decent Christian”) to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Five House Democrats reportedly served as “hosts” and were given a shoutout from the stage, while Rep. Lucy McBath read from the bible. And President Biden attended again as he did last year, giving a speech that insultingly urged Americans to “Let’s go spread the faith.”
Politicians on both sides of the aisle have over the past many decades willingly attended and utilized the event to pander, check off the “I’m religious” box or otherwise put on a public halo. Even President Obama, one of the many presidents since 1953 delivering an address at the National Prayer Breakfast, said during his 2011 Christian-testifying talk: “It’s a tradition that I am proud to uphold, not only as a fellow believer but as an elected leader.”
However, traditions are thankfully changing. It’s high time for members of Congress — and the president — to realize they’re being exploited for political purposes by The Fellowship Foundation. FFRF has urged members of Congress to stay away for decades and has called attention to Jeff Sharlet’s exposé, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, which was also turned into a Netflix series.
Back in 2010, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit FFRF has jointly filed lawsuits with, called on congressional leaders and the president not to attend. As CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan put it then: “It is a combination of the intolerance of the organization’s views and the secrecy surrounding the organization. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be allowed to hold their breakfast; of course they should. The question is, Should American officials be lending legitimacy to it, giving their imprimatur by showing up.”
The answer is an obvious “NO.”
It goes without saying that the real behind-the-scenes lobbying and influence-peddling takes place privately over four days around the time of the breakfast. Who knows what mischief was concocted? The Freedom From Religion Foundation and its allies will continue to call out politicians who lend credence to this creepy theopolitical event.