The Freedom From Religion Foundation reiterates its disapproval of the National Prayer Breakfast held today, including President Biden’s involvement, the U.S. Capitol venue and the overarching Christian message.
The 71st annual event, although technically private, had an even stronger appearance this year of being sponsored by the federal government because it took place for the first time in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. Historically, when under the open sponsorship of the Fellowship, a shadowy Christian nationalist group, the main event took place at a hotel.
The prayer breakfast was held earlier this morning on the usual first Thursday in February. Last year, the newly formed National Prayer Breakfast Foundation pledged a departure from previous practices, promising openness, transparency and a shift away from advocating a robust Christian nationalist ideology. It committed to disclosing finances and making the breakfast more diverse.
A year later, it appears that the board maintains profound ties with a Christian nationalist perspective. There was reading from scripture, a rendition of “Amazing Grace” and countless long prayers “in Jesus’ name,” all recited exclusively by government actors, from event co-chairs Reps. Tracey Mann and Frank Mrvan to Speaker of the House Mike Johnson to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Gillibrand’s remarks were most shocking, calling for the president to put on the “full armor of God” and the “breastplate of righteousness” (favorite phrases of Christian nationalist politicians). A final prayer to Jesus was given by House Chaplain Margaret Kibben.
Biden himself avoided most sectarian references, delivering a largely ecumenical address that mentioned antisemitism and Islamophobia, although he praised the fact that it was the first time the prayer breakfast had been held in Statuary Hall and recited part of the 22nd Psalm.
The Christian emphasis should be no surprise, since the National Prayer Breakfast Foundation’s website itself states, “The vision of the National Prayer Breakfast Foundation is to promote and share the concept of convening in the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth,” and remarks from numerous speakers called for the participants to explicitly gather in the “Name of Jesus,” branding the breakfast as a Christian event. The official website glosses over the controversial origins of the breakfast, citing a 1935 gathering of Seattle business executives as a meeting aimed at addressing issues “in the Spirit of Jesus of Nazareth” when actually this was a part of a right-wing counterattack against the New Deal.
The connection between the National Prayer Breakfast Foundation and the Fellowship Foundation, a known Christian nationalist group and previous sponsor of the breakfast, is unmistakable. Recent investigations reveal that many members of the National Prayer Breakfast Foundation Board are also linked to the Fellowship Foundation.
FFRF is disappointed at the attendance of numerous pro-LGBTQAI officials such as Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Gillibrand and Chris Coons — despite a letter by Rep. Mark Pocan, chair of the House Equality Caucus and member of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, admonishing the Fellowship Foundation, the event’s previous sponsor, for its anti-LGBTQ stance. Also disappointing is Biden’s attendance, contradicting his administration’s pledge to represent all Americans, as this event does the opposite.
What should be most dismaying to any onlooker was the unadulterated Christian focus. This shows how unrepresentative Congress is today, with 88 percent identifying as Christian, even though the share of Christians in the general population is only 63 percent and close to one in three Americans has no religious affiliation.
“Congress is stuck in a Christian echo chamber,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president. “Those in attendance, including the president, ought to be ashamed of themselves for sending a tone-deaf message of Christian privilege. It was excruciating to witness their pious pandering.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members and several chapters across the country. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.