National Prayer Breakfast was eye-opening — in unintended ways

By Annie Laurie Gaylor
Co-President
Freedom From Religion Foundation

Please open your eyes — but not in the way President Trump beseeched the audience at today’s 2018 National Prayer Breakfast.

“All we have to do is open our eyes and we can see God’s hand,” Trump intoned at the event attended by 3,000 folks — mostly public officials. “As long as we open our eyes to God’s grace and open our hearts to God’s love, then America will forever be the land of the free, the home of the brave, and the light to all nations.”

Au contraire, Mr. President. Opening one’s eyes — the opposite of most prayer postures — should lead to Enlightenment. (For a discussion on the religious and racist problems with The Star Spangled Banner, read why I think the godly motto and national anthem should both go.)

The 66th annual event was organized, as always, by the shadowy Fellowship Foundation. People from 100 countries were at the gathering, including more than 50 people from what Newsweek calls “Russia’s religious and political elite.”  And there was a whole lotta praying going on. A particularly weasely, pusillanimous address was delivered by Senator James Lankford, R-Okla., who is to the right of the Religious Right. Lankford intoned:

“This is a prayer breakfast but we would encourage you, wherever you are in your workplace, or in whatever legislative body or place where you serve around the world, to start your own time, that together you ask, seek, knock, and admit together we don’t know everything and we don’t run everything, but we have the opportunity to speak to who does. Let’s take one more moment to pray together: ‘Father, our leaders need your wisdom . . .’ ”

Say what, Lankford? If you’re that craven, unwise and weak, what are you doing in the U.S. Senate?

Trump’s 12-minute talk was infused with God and country language, which the Washington Post points out appeared intended to appeal to Americans who believe in Christian nationalism — that God has a uniquely Christian purpose for the United States

Trump’s Christian emphasis included such lines as: “As the bible tells us, ‘For we are God’s handiwork, created in Jesus Christ.’” He read faithfully from his teleprompter: “Jesus’s words in the book of Matthew: ‘With God All Things Are Possible.’ ” He repeated his oft-quoted line:America is a nation of believers and together we are strengthened by the power of prayer.” This is a remark FFRF specifically rebutted in an ad running last year in The New York Times (see illustration above).

Trump’s central pandering repeated the same old saws:

“Each year this event reminds us that faith is central to American life and to liberty. Our currency declares ‘In God We Trust.’ And we place our hands on our hearts as we recite the Pledge of Allegiance and proclaim we are ‘One nation under God.’ Our rights are not given to us by man. Our rights come from our Creator. That is why the words ‘Praise Be To God’ are etched atop the Washington Monument, and those same words are etched into the hearts of our people.”

Of course, “In God We Trust” was a johnny-come-lately motto adopted at the height of the Cold War, that contradicts the secular message of our godless Constitution, whose only references to religion are exclusionary. FFRF documents that for the overwhelming part of U.S. history, America’s motto was strictly secular, “E Pluribus Unum” (From many, one). Similarly, the Pledge of Allegiance was secular, and, when Congress tampered with it in 1954, ironically took “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” and divided it with a godly addition.

This much bally-hooed event insidiously unites federal government with religion. Its very name creates the perception of being the government’s “national prayer breakfast.” Even though it is privately sponsored, with such overwhelming congressional support and attendance it might as well be put on by the government. Such an unseemly message is sent every year as administrations — whether Democratic or Republican — members of Congress and their chosen clergy of the day trot up to see and be seen, to pray and be prayed over.

But, like the ads on TV say, “Wait, there’s more!” Journalist Jeff Sharlet’s book, The Family: The Secret Foundation at the Heart of American Power, has exposed the sinister roots of this annual prayerfest. Described as “the stealth Billy Graham,” National Prayer Breakfast power broker evangelist Doug Coe, who died last year, was eulogized at this year’s event. Sharlet has shown the roots of this annual event and its sponsors are clearly theocratic.

We like to say at the Freedom From Religion Foundation: It’s time for pious politicians to get off their knees and get to work. But honestly, I think it’s time for many of these pious politicians — who cannot distinguish between their secular duties and their personal beliefs —to spare our nation by finding a new line of work. If you are a theocrat at heart (with “Praise be to God” etched on it, as Trump ghoulishly put it), how can you represent a nation where religion is supposed to be separate from government?


FFRF is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping state and church separate and educating about nontheism. For more information and a copy of our paper, Freethought Today, please click here.

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