President Obama, in his remarks about the Colorado shootings, said this:
“I’m sure many of you are parents who had the same reaction I did when we heard the news… My daughters go to the movies. What if Malia and Sasha had been at the theater as so many kids do each day?”
“I hope all of you will keep the people of Aurora in your hearts and minds today. May the lord bring them comfort and healing in hard days to come,” he said.
Well, no doubt they will be in my mind. For religious people, I’m sure the families will be in their prayers. You know what Obama was trying to say. There are times when invoking the name of god is really a not-so-subtle middle finger thrown in the direction of Secular Americans. This isn’t one of them.
In any case, it should be fairly obvious that now is the absolute worst time to criticize the president for bringing up religion in his comments:
“I think it’s a little unfortunate,” [Council for Secular Humanism] director Tom Flynn told The Washington Examiner. “Even in a situation like this, [when] he leads a public prayer to a deity that it pretty recognizably the Christian God, much as you can understand the emotional context of it, he’s still sending to some degree a message of exclusion to other religions who don’t call their god “Lord” and to non-religious Americans.”
“By the very act of praying, that’s a message of exclusion,” he continued. “If I’m a public official, I think I’m going to look around in the morning and conclude that, ‘hey, this religion thing is just too hot to handle, I should stay away from it in my official capacity.’”
Of couse, Flynn also sympathized with Obama (“I can understand… why [he] might have felt really moved to bend the rules this time, but you really can’t”), but seriously, no one’s going to see the sympathy. They’re just going to see that, in the wake of a tragedy, an atheist group criticized the president for asking people to keep the victims’ families in their prayers.
It’s not that you’re wrong; it’s just an awful PR move.
When a reporter asks you how you feel about the President’s comments, the right answer is this: “My heart also goes out to the victims. If religion and prayer brings comfort to their families, I wish them well. The families will be in my thoughts.”
Or, you know, you could say, “No comment.”
***Edit***: Even though the Examiner article doesn’t make this clear, Flynn was speaking on his own and not on behalf of his organization.
***Update***: The Center for Inquiry has released an official statement here.