Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Leave the prayers out of politics

"If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?"

At the annual National Prayer Breakfast recently, President Obama included that biblical quote in his address. Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Georgia, walked out. "He was disturbed and offended by the president's use of prayer and reflection time for partisan politics and class warfare," Gingrey's spokesman said.

Gingrey was right in saying that this was a speech Obama should not have given. The problem, however, is not that Obama's positions are socialist. They aren't. Or whether Obama accurately quoted the words of Christian scripture. He did. The problem is that the president, whoever he is or whatever he believes, should not be the "pray-er-in-chief" at any breakfast, or anywhere else.

The National Prayer Breakfast is an idea cooked up by, among others, a Norwegian immigrant named Abram Vereide, who favored an American theocracy, and by the Rev. Billy Graham.

President Dwight Eisenhower keynoted the first one in 1953. Presidents, some who regularly attended church and some who did not and some who said they did even when they did not, have participated ever since. Few political figures, then or now, have had the temerity to come out against prayer.

Somebody needs to tell candidates and current officeholders that the Constitution specifically forbids actions that imply an endorsement of any particular religion, or religion in general for that matter, by the government or its representatives, particularly religious tests for public office.

The United States has never been consistent in how it treats religion. The Pilgrims came to America seeking a place to establish their religion as the official one, not practice tolerance.

We have come to expect football players to point to the heavens or drop to their knees. Candidates for office imply that they have a special relationship with the Almighty. To the best of our knowledge, God does not support any particular team or player. God doesn't vote, especially in the states that require photo IDs.

It is left up to each of us to decide what we as individuals believe about God and how we pray. That, in a pluralistic democratic free nation, is as it should be, and neither Rep. Phil Gingrey nor President Barack Obama should practice their piety before the nation.

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