Obama Raises Profile Of Prayer

March 10, 2009

Author: Michelle Boorstein

Source: The Washington Post


Prayer has become more common at presidential appearances under the Obama administration, including at nonreligious events such as stimulus rallies. The White House is acting in a deliberately inclusive, interfaith way that seems to limit opposition.

Church-state experts say the policy, which President Obama also followed while campaigning, does not appear to be illegal because the White House tells people who lead the prayers to be nonsectarian. But some raised concerns about prayers being scripted or reviewed in advance.

People who helped plan public events for former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton say they did not routinely organize prayers before non-religious events. Historians note that there is no clear record of prayers before presidential appearances, but they could not remember prayers being said as routinely as they are now.

The policy, first reported in U.S. News & World Report, appears to continue a new White House approach to religion: invite piety and spirituality at every opportunity, but with a new emphasis on interfaith participants and atheists. Obama mentioned "non-believers" in his inauguration speech and, even as he unveiled his faith-based office to religious conservatives at the National Prayer Breakfast, he noted that he did not consider faith-based social service programs inherently superior to secular ones.

"To me, it's entirely a new frontier of religious politics," said University of Washington communications professor David Domke, who has written about presidential rhetoric and religion. "Prayer will be different than what we've experienced since Reagan, with a much more substantial interfaith element."