FFRF Takes National Prayer Breakfast Remarks to Task

Nothing fails like prayer

Statement by Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker
Foundation Co-Presidents

Since the Freedom From Religion Foundation began, liberal religionists have occasionally argued with us that the Foundation should limit its work only to keeping the government free from religion. These people, who would never think of suggesting to churches that they stop evangelical outreach, say we cloud the issue by also serving as a national organization for individuals personally free from religion.

We have always pointed out that most violations of the separation between church and state are excused on the basis that religion is so very good. How can we complain when the Gideons distribute bibles in public schools, since the bible is The Good Book”? Why shouldn’t courthouses post Ten Commandments monuments, when civilization would fall apart were we not to observe these commandments?

One of the reasons the United States has so many state/church violations is because of the wide acceptance of the idea that if it is religious, it must be good. It becomes necessary to debunk religious claims when they get in the way of keeping church and state separate.

President Barack Obama’s speech today before the National Prayer Breakfast is another such case in point. In using the event to announce his executive order to establish a White House Council of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Obama claims that taking some “responsibility for the well-being of people . . . requires a living, breathing, active faith.” He is not speaking of faith in humankind, but religious faith. His pro-faith assumption is now used to justify broadening an entanglement between church and state.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a new convert to Roman Catholicism and the prayer breakfast keynoter, piously intoned: “There are limits to humanism and beyond those limits only God can work.”

Beware when politicians start turning over government responsibility to the gods. The saying around the Freedom From Religion Foundation office is: Nothing fails like prayer. Is there a greater confession of human failure than turning to prayer?

But to hear our new president laud prayer as if prayer accomplishes something, is most disappointing. Obama claimed the prayer breakfast tradition had its roots in the Depression: “The leaders of the community did all that they could for those who were suffering in their midst. And then they decided to do something more: they prayed. . . .

Prayer is not “doing something more.” It is the ultimate non-action, the ultimate cop-out.

Obama, to his credit, admitted in his prayer breakfast address that “some subscribe to no faith at all.” He divulged that his family background is nonreligious: a Muslim-turned-athest father, non-practicing Methodist and Baptist grandparents, and a mother “skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I’ve ever known.”

The reason Obama gave for jettisoning his family’s tradition of rationality and embracing Christianity was seeing the example of religious “church folks” in Chicago. Hasn’t Mr. Obama heard of the Hull House, founded in Chicago at the turn of the last century by the nonreligious Jane Addams? Addams insisted that Hull House be secular, saying people “prefer a rational world to believe in and live in.” Why doesn’t Obama try emulating Jane Addams for a change?

The idea that religion has some corner on charity is a myth. Religion gets the credit for so much that taxpayers are billed for. Religion grabs the biggest chunk of charitable giving, yet studies show that most donations are used for church infrastructure, religious promotion and salaries.

Obama’s address to the prayer breakfast had thoughtful moments. He admitted that “we have seen faith wielded as a tool to divide us from one another–as an excuse for prejudice and intolerance. Wars have been waged, Innocents have been slaughtered.”

Yet his following remarks would seem to indicate that Obama is not familiar with the teachings of the so-called holy book with which he has aligned himself.

Obama added: “But no matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate. There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know.”

Mass killings in the name of God are one of the major themes of the Old Testament! It takes eight typeset pages just to list the major mass killings ordered, committed, or approved by the God of the bible.

Obama also credits the Golden Rule as the “one law that binds all great religions together.” This “rule” far predates Christianity or organized religion. Hate is, in fact, an integral part of the teachings of Jesus, who commanded:

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

“For I am come to set a man at variance against is father, and the daughter against her mother. . . ,” Jesus preaches in Matt. 10:34-35.

“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yeah, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple,” according to Luke 14:26.

Of course, the crown teaching of Christianity is that it is praiseworthy for a father to sacrifice his own son to propitiate the so-called sins of humankind. Is that not cruel and morally bankrupt?

We single out Christian text, since Obama avows a Christian conversion. But injunctions to hate and kill are common to all major written religions. It takes author Sam Harris more than five typeset pages in his book, The End of Faith, to simply excerpt the portions from the Koran which speak of Allah’s wrath toward unbelievers, such as, “We will put terror into the hearts of the unbelievers . . . . The Fire shall be their home” (3:149-51).

Mr. Obama claims the tradition of the National Prayer Breakfast is to “rededicate ourselves to the mission of love and service that lies at the heart of all humanity.” This excludes and diminishes nonreligious, nonChristian Americans. Religion is not a synonym for love or charity. Mr. Obama should have picked a secular setting if his purpose was to appeal to “all humanity.”

It is also true that the privately-run National Pray Breakfast is a tradition of a shadowy evangelical outfit known as The Family. Journalist Jeff Sharlet documented in his book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalist at the Heart of American Power, that the annual event is the outward public face of a rather sinister evangelical group which seems to have been on friendly terms with dictators the world wide. U.S. politicians and foreign dignitaries turning out for the obligatory chance to wear religion on their sleeves grant credibility to a fringe evangelical group that most emphatically does not believe in the separation between church and state.

What this nation needs, in the immortal words of Anne Newport Royall, the nation’s first state/church lobbyist, is: “Good works, not long prayers.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics) that has been working since 1978 to keep church and state separate.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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