Why Does Obama Want to Open Public Events With Prayers?

Even if they're for local consumption only, prayers help brand the president as faith friendly.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

At USA Today's Faith & Reason blog, Cathy Lynn Grossman wonders why the White House would want to start President Obama's public events with prayers if they're not carried on national TV:

Of course, if the invocations, however bland, are just for local consumption, not for us all, why do it? Or should the argument be that no prayers are wasted because an audience of One is always tuned in?

Depending on your religious beliefs, the audience of One being tuned in is the best argument for Obama's opening events with prayers, even if they're not carried on national TV.

But there are more prosaic political arguments, too. As the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life's John Green explained in my earlier piece:

"Having prayers in places like Indiana where public prayers are commonplace would help the president. Whereas seeing it on national TV would cause controversy because there are places where these things are less popular."

The theory makes a lot of sense. Opening his events with prayers helps Obama with religious folks who are attending his events but also reaches a much wider audience through local news coverage. The invocation at Obama's recent event in Elkhart, Ind., for instance, was mentioned in a handful of local papers, helping brand the president as faith friendly in a battleground state. That branding campaign is all the more powerful because the locals delivering the prayers are respected community leaders. You can't buy that kind of faith-based publicity.