Did Barack Obama Fail to Thank God on Thanksgiving?

Is Barack Obama so anti-god that he refuses to thank God even on Thanksgiving? This is a theme popular among some on the religious right. David Barton issued a document before the election calling Obama the most biblically hostile president ever. I have not examined all of Barton’s claims in that document but, based on his track record, I am skeptical. Furthermore, Barton repeats obviously false claims regarding Obama including the one that Obama hasn’t mentioned God in his Thanksgiving resolutions during his four years as president.  Here is Barton’s tweet:

The link in this tweet goes to an article by Steven Ertelt and the pro-life news source, LifeNews. To his credit, Steve modified his article after I pointed out the facts about Obama’s proclamations to him. Will Barton retract his irresponsible endorsement of the false story? Don’t hold your breath.

In fact, this generalization simply is not true. I have no way of knowing Obama’s real religious sentiments, but fair is fair.  Even though I did not support Obama in the election, I feel it is right to demonstrate that his official actions as president do not support this particular religious right stereotype. As the Texas Freedom Network pointed out, Obama mentioned God favorably in each one of his Thanksgiving proclamations. An easy place to read all presidential proclamations is at the American Presidency Project of the University of Santa California at Santa Barbara. There one can enter a year and then read all proclamations during the year.

To demonstrate that Obama does mention and give thanks to God, here are portions of his Thanksgiving proclamation made during each year in office.

Proclamation 8458 – Thanksgiving Day, 2009 – November 20, 2009

Today, we recall President George Washington, who proclaimed our first national day of public thanksgiving to be observed “by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God,” and President Abraham Lincoln, who established our annual Thanksgiving Day to help mend a fractured Nation in the midst of civil war.

Proclamation 8606 – Thanksgiving Day, 2010 – November 23, 2010

Amidst the uncertainty of a fledgling experiment in democracy, President George Washington declared the first Thanksgiving in America, recounting the blessings of tranquility, union, and plenty that shined upon our young country. In the dark days of the Civil War when the fate of our Union was in doubt, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day, calling for “the Almighty hand” to heal and restore our Nation.

As we stand at the close of one year and look to the promise of the next, we lift up our hearts in gratitude to God for our many blessings, for one another, and for our Nation.

As Americans gather for the time-honored Thanksgiving Day meal, let us rejoice in the abundance that graces our tables, in the simple gifts that mark our days, in the loved ones who enrich our lives, and in the gifts of a gracious God.

Proclamation 8755 – Thanksgiving Day, 2011 – November 16, 2011

When President George Washington proclaimed our country’s first Thanksgiving, he praised a generous and knowing God for shepherding our young Republic through its uncertain beginnings.

As we gather in our communities and in our homes, around the table or near the hearth, we give thanks to each other and to God for the many kindnesses and comforts that grace our lives. Let us pause to recount the simple gifts that sustain us, and resolve to pay them forward in the year to come.

Proclamation – Thanksgiving Day, 2012 – November 20, 2012

On Thanksgiving Day, Americans everywhere gather with family and friends to recount the joys and blessings of the past year. This day is a time to take stock of the fortune we have known and the kindnesses we have shared, grateful for the God-given bounty that enriches our lives.

When President George Washington marked our democracy’s first Thanksgiving, he prayed to our Creator for peace, union, and plenty through the trials that would surely come.

Let us spend this day by lifting up those we love, mindful of the grace bestowed upon us by God and by all who have made our lives richer with their presence.

In addition to his Thanksgiving proclamations, Obama issued three prayer related proclamations each year he has been president.  From 2009 through the present, Obama officially recognized the National Day of Prayer, the Memorial Day Prayer for Peace and the National Days of Prayers and Remembrance in September. His language in these proclamations is enough to make atheists cringe. For instance, in his 2009 proclamation on the Day of Prayer, Obama said:

Now, Therefore, I, Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 7, 2009, as a National Day of Prayer. I call upon Americans to pray in thanksgiving for our freedoms and blessings and to ask for God’s continued guidance, grace, and protection for this land that we love.

In his 2010 Day of Prayer proclamation, Obama said:

On this day, let us give thanks for the many blessings God has bestowed upon our Nation. Let us rejoice for the blessing of freedom both to believe and to live our beliefs, and for the many other freedoms and opportunities that bring us together as one Nation. Let us ask for wisdom, compassion, and discernment of justice as we address the great challenges of our time.

In his 2012 Day of Prayer proclamation, Obama declared:

Let us pray for all the citizens of our great Nation, particularly those who are sick, mourning, or without hope, and ask God for the sustenance to meet the challenges we face as a Nation.

Perhaps these references are not enough for some religious people, but it is wrong to say that Obama does not acknowledge thanks to God in his official statements. In his other public statements (the ones highlighted by religious right pundits), Obama sometimes leans away from obvious religious references but one cannot say that Obama’s official acts as President have omitted God. Indeed, he has maintained the pattern of his predecessors when it comes to presidential acknowledgement of God.

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  • Jimm Mandenberg

    Barton is simply a bigot.

  • Perhaps the claim could still be made that the President did not explicitly mention the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). However, if that becomes the standard, then Barton himself would have a lot of explaining to do regarding the statements of some of the Founding Fathers. In addition, I think a fair number of people (including myself) would believe that such a statement would run afoul of the Establishment clause.

    However, there’s a deeper issue here. When any President, in his (or her) official capacity, makes reference to a vague “Almighty God,” does this bear any relationship to religion at all? Our civil religion is so non-specific that references such as the one above are inoffensive to most Christians, Jews, and Muslims (although I can understand how an atheist could get worked up about it). Many people seem to confuse civil religion with the beliefs and practices of specific religions, and that confusion causes its own problems.

  • Bernie

    I was hoping that LifeNews had a comment thread so that I could provide them with the TFN article. I did send a tweet to Barton with the same article, of course there was no reply.

  • From an atheist’s perspective – it’s exactly as offensive, no more, and no less, than thanking (in all sincerity) Santa Claus.

    If the president were to do that instead, what would be the reaction of theists?

    How about the change of the motto “Out of Many, One” to “In Santa Claus We Trust”? Or having “In Santa Claus We Trust” on dollar bills? Would that be considered offensive, or just rather worrying?

  • Try this on for size:

    Let us pray for all the citizens of our great Nation, particularly those who are sick, mourning, or without hope, and ask Santa Claus for the sustenance to meet the challenges we face as a Nation.

    It’s not that we don’t sympathise with those who are sick, mourning, or without hope. We don’t just sympathise, many of us actually do something concrete, and view such petitions to Santa Claus as all too often excuses to feel good while doing nothing.

    It’s also not that we disagree with the morality of a supernatural being that gives presents to children. Giving presents and making children happy is a good thing, we’re not arguing against it.

    But when there’s legislation put in place to teach that the idea of the polar ice cap being a sheet of ice floating on seawater is “just a theory”… then our bemusement and amused toleration turns to alarm.

  • Carol A Ranney

    I think Obama’s speech in 2006 is about as clear as any Christian could want as far as deliniating his personal beliefs. For some reason, however, this is not enough for the religious right.

    Remarks of Senator Barack Obama, Call to Renewal Keynote Address, Washington, DC Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

    “The Christians who I worked with recognized themselves in me; they saw that I knew their Book and shared their values and sang their songs. But they sensed a part of me that remained removed, detached, an observer in their midst. In time, I too came to realize that something was missing – that without a vessel for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart and alone.

    If not for the particular attributes of the historically black church, I may have accepted this fate. But as the months passed in Chicago, I found myself drawn to the church.

    For one thing, I believed and still believe in the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change, a power made real by some of the leaders here today. Because of its past, the black church understands in an intimate way the Biblical call to feed the hungry and cloth the naked and challenge powers and principalities. And in its historical struggles for freedom and the rights of man, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death; it is an active, palpable agent in the world. It is a source of hope.

    And perhaps it was out of this intimate knowledge of hardship, the grounding of faith in struggle, that the church offered me a second insight: that faith doesn’t mean that you don’t have doubts. You need to come to church precisely because you are of this world, not apart from it; you need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away – because you are human and need an ally in your difficult journey.

    It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.”