Roundup: Reaction to White House-Commissioned Prayers

Bloggers weigh in on the propriety of the Obama White House commissioning and vetting prayers.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

A variety of reactions around the blogosphere to my story on the White House's practice of commissioning and vetting prayers for President Obama's public events.

AllahPundit at Hot Air is relishing the prospect of atheists freaking out: 

Sue, atheists. Sue like the wind . ... Exit question: Who's up for seeing Hitchens and his lawyer roll into court with a complaint to knock this one out of the park, huh? Come on. Common ground at last! 

This and other conservative reaction to the Obama program, including former George W. Bush's religious outreach liaison telling me, "If a similar thing had been done by President Bush's White House, I guarantee you there would have been a lot of people crying foul," imply general support for the Obama prayers. Conservatives aren't objecting to prayers at Obama public events; they're ticked off that Republicans can't do the same and excited about potential blowback from secular liberals.

Besides the question of whether the prayers are appropriate, the other big question was the propriety of the White House prayer vetting process. Spiritual Politics's Mark Silk doesn't see a big problem here:

If Obama's going to begin these things with an invocation—and that may well be a bad idea—why not make sure it's the kind of prayer that is broadly acceptable? And if the would-be invocator can't live with that—and so far, according to Dan, there have been no objections raised on either side—then he or she is free to walk.

But historian of American religion and Beliefnet founder Steve Waldman raises a red flag:

On this one I disagree with Obama and agree with Barry Lynn.

This is a great illustration of why Madison said, when in doubt, err on the side of separation. At first blush, what could be wrong with a prayer before an event? Then you realize it's a presidential event, so you have to be careful nothing crazy gets said. But being careful means, someone has to read the prayers, and before long you have a White House staffer who has the job of approving prayers.

Echoing that line, the The Blog From the Capital cites the old Baptist tack that separation of church and state is important not so much because it protects government from religious influence, but vice versa:

The sentiment is admirable: Clearly, the White House wants to avoid prayers that could be offensive, or that - I'm guessing - do not speak to a wide audience with inclusive religious language. The downside, of course, is that the White House risks appearing to censor prayers for content. In fact, why else ask for them?

Chalk this up as yet another reason why prayers at official government events are not a good idea.

Fellow U.S. News blogger Bonnie Erbe says the prayers are simply misguided politically:

I'm unclear on the motive here, but most likely it was to try to draw religious conservatives into the Democratic party. It's not going to work, as is any of Mr. Obama's bipartisan rhetoric ... You can't please all the people all the time.

What about you? What do you think?

  • Read more by Dan Gilgoff.
  • Read more about the Obama administration.