2016 National Prayer Breakfast entangles religion and state, once again

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s message to pious politicians is: Get off your knees and get to work!

Many of our nation’s highest officials will be spending the first Thursday of February attending a “National Prayer Breakfast” at a fancy hotel in Washington, D.C. The National Prayer Breakfast boasts it will hold its 63rd annual event on Feb. 4, bringing together “over 3,200 people from all 50 U.S. states and 140 countries . . . highlighted by an address from the President of the United States.”

Although the National Prayer Breakfast is technically sponsored by the Fellowship Foundation, which is dedicated to “the teachings and precepts of Jesus,” the gathering’s name and target audience of public officials make it appear as if it is an official governmental event.

And it might as well be. Members of Congress, the president and other prominent policymakers invariably and dutifully show up to pray and be prayed at during the expensive breakfast. It’s one of the Religious Right’s “gotcha” events: Politicians are afraid to be no-shows, and by their continuing participation bolster the godly gathering.

The Fellowship, also known as “The Family,” was 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 Fellowship, of course, may 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. It’s worth noting that the Leadership Development, which works with the Fellowship, says the National Prayer Breakfast “invites people from all walks of life and religious backgrounds under the name of Jesus.” 

The presence of our topmost office-bearers at such a get-together makes it appear as if the U.S. government endorses one particular fringe of one particular religion. Unfortunately, since the event’s inception in the 1950s, an invitation to attend it has become coveted, a chance to rub elbows and bend the knee with dictators and theocrats from around the world.

The last thing this nation or the world needs is more prayer. What we do need are public officials who keep their eyes open, use reason and critical thought in decision-making, and who work to serve the public good, not bow to religious special interests.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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