Obama to the rest of us: who cares?

Secularism? Separation of church and state? Government should neither help nor hinder any particular religion? Pluralism? Some of us are not Christians? The president is supposed to be the president of all the people? Hello?

Oh fuck off, comes the reply. Obama hosted his third annual Easter prayer breakfast at the White House on Wednesday, and there’s not a god damn thing you can do about it.

Though the president is Christian, surveys have repeatedly shown that as many as one in five Americans believe he is Muslim. His Easter prayer breakfasts have served as a platform for the president to wax theological in familiar surroundings where he appears most comfortable.

Among the guests were Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl; civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton, Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, a spiritual adviser to Obama; Archbishop Demitrios of the Greek Orthodox Church; the Rev. Julius Scruggs, president of the National Baptist Convention and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Christian singer Sara Groves sang “He’s Always Been Faithful To Me” and Rev. Cynthia Hale of Ray of Hope Christian Church offered the opening prayer.

That’s nice. People who believe weird things are welcome while people who decline to believe weird things (along with people who believe different weird things) are not. The theocratization of the US marches on, with Obama helping. Nice.



  1. Randomfactor says

    Those teabaggers comparing Obama to Hitler are PARTLY right: they’re both Christians using the trappings of religion in politics.

  2. Jeff D says

    Every year at this time, I tell myself that it’s just lip service, “ceremonial deism” of the shallowest kind, and I do my best to ignore it without fuming and boosting my blood pressure. I like to treat these official prayer days as background noise, like “In God We Trust” on our paper currency (widely since 1964) and on various U.S. coins since 1864.

    Or background noise like the same “In God We Trust” motto on one of the three standard license plate designs in my current home state of Indiana. A 2007 lawsuit, alleging that it was unfair to charge Hoosier drivers extra for non-religious specialty license plates, was dismissed, of course. And when I went to the local license branch in 2007 to pick up my required new plates, what were the only plates available? The In God We Trust plates. So, this year, when I was issued renewal plates to replace the old ones, the State of Indiana conveniently remembered that I had been [involuntarily] issued “In God We Trust” plates 5 years ago, and I received new “In God We Trust” plates in the mail. I had to go back to a license branch and pay a $10.00 change-plate fee in order to be issued a plain-vanilla, God-free, standard plate. The lady behind the counter was extremely nice and didn’t question me at all about my reasons.

    I’ll admit that the vaguely or ostensibly religious majority(“people of faith,” and those who pretend to have faith for social and psychological group-identity reasons) are used to having things their way, and it does bother me. When “background noise” is loud enough and constant enough, it ceases to be in the background.

  3. Ant Allan says

    Perhaps we can follow up the Reason Rally with a Reason Breakfast. How could POTUS refuse an invitation from his fellow Americans?


  4. Carla says

    That, Ant Allen, is a genius idea. It’ll make clear EXACTLY what’s going on, and who’s preferring whom. Reason Breakfast has my support!

  5. says

    Ant Allan writes:

    How could POTUS refuse an invitation from his fellow Americans?

    Quite easily, I should think. We’re a small part of the voting public, and we don’t typically hold “galas” to raise lots of money for political candidates.

    Still, I think it’s a good idea to invite him, if for no other reason than to read the entertaining nonsense used to decline it.

  6. Godless Heathen says

    If anyone plans this, let me know. I really want to be there! Hell, I’ll help organize if it means I get a seat at the table.

  7. sundoga says

    Yeah, but I think we shouldn’t ignore something:
    He’s a Christian.
    And he’s allowed to be. He’s allowed to have his own beliefs, and celebrate his religion’s holidays.
    Just so long as he doesn’t let it be the deciding factor of what he does in his official capacity, why should we care who he has over or what he celebrates? He’s allowed to be human.

  8. says

    But arguably he’s not allowed to do all that on Federal property. Arguably he’s not allowed to do it as part of his job.

    And morally, I think he shouldn’t do it while in office. I think all pols should keep it (if they have it) to themselves.

    Why we should care seems to me to be pretty obvious.

  9. Woo_Monster says

    why should we care who he has over or what he celebrates?

    Think about what you just said for a second. You can’t think of anyone that you would rather not the POTUS associate with and publicly implicitly endorse? And you cannot think of any beliefs or ideologies which are harmful, and thus concerning to people if seen lauded and celebrated?

  10. Jeff D says

    sundoga wrote,

    Yeah, but I think we shouldn’t ignore something:
    He’s a Christian.
    And he’s allowed to be. He’s allowed to have his own beliefs, and celebrate his religion’s holidays.
    Just so long as he doesn’t let it be the deciding factor of what he does in his official capacity, why should we care who he has over or what he celebrates? He’s allowed to be human.

    Yes, he’s allowed, and I can generally sense when an elected or appointed governmental official is being sincere or not in his or her public expressions of “faith.” The smaller the amount of faithy churchy talk an official (or a candidate) emits, and the less sincere he or she sounds, the better I feel about that official or candidate. But when a government official or candidate goes on and on in detail about his or her profound faith and personal relationship with some deity, the more concerned I become that he or she has a faulty epistemology. I come to doubt that he or she is capable of reaching reasoned conclusions that are supported by evidence.

    And of course, when an elected official perpetuates policies of a predecessor that violate the Establishment Clause — such as continuing to use tax dollars to subsidize “faith-based” intiatives by organizations that discriminate (against women, gays, non-believers, etc.) in hiring, firing and promotion . . . well that tears it, and suddenly I don’t feel kindly and conciliatory about that official’s good-timey participation in prayer breakfasts and other supposedly innocuous rituals.

  11. says

    But what do we mean he’s “allowed”? It’s obvious that he’s allowed in some sense, since Bush was never stopped. But it’s a seriously bad thing for a president to do. In that sense I don’t think he’s “allowed” at all – I think he should knock it off.

  12. Heidi says

    Obama is not a Christian. He does NOT believe Jesus is the way the truth or the life and that there is no other God but Him. Moreover, obama supports killing unborn children and eugenics as is clearly seen in his appointment of John Holdren a man who wrote books about forcing Americans to be sterilized, having abortions and who advocates government population control. Don’t be fooled. It’s not hard to seduce a crowd by saying you were on your knees. Big deal. Being on your knees and even praying doesn’t make you a Christian. The only time he’s on his knees is when he’s looking for a vote. Obama has a story for every crowd he appears to. Romney is no better. Romney think he’s going to be a god and live on a planet when he goes to heaven. Obama thinks he a god now on this planet. In a 2004 interview with Cathleen Falsani, Obama said, “I believe that there are many paths to the same place.” Obama also said, “All people of faith-Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, everyone knows the same God.”

    But Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Nowhere in the Bible is there a reference to Obama’s “many paths.” Obama’s father, grandfather and great grandfather were all muslim, this makes him a muslim in muslim religion. He is compromised. He should NOT be chief and commander of our military. And he’s most definately not a friend to Israel. Get smart people okay quit living in a fantasy world.

  13. Jeff D says

    President Obama is “allowed” to participate in (and even to officiate at) these public prayer ceremonies for two reasons:

    (1) As an American citizen, the Free Exercise Clause of the 1st Amendment clearly permits him to express (or to fake) religious faith in public settings, and

    (2) In a logically inconsistent, politically expedient, and messy series of decisions that are all over the map, the federal courts unfortuately have upheld the constitutionality of government-sponsored prayer events that occur outside schools and do not coerce anyone (other than the President, every May under 36 U.S.C. 119)to participate.

    My favorite bit of dicta (quotation from court opinion) on the Establishment Clause is this, from Justice Black in Everson, 330 U.S. 1, in 1947 [I have added the numbers and paragraph breaks for easier reading]:

    The “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment means at least this:
    [1] Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church.
    [2] Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.
    [3] Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.
    [4] No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance.
    [5] No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion.
    [6] Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa.
    In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect “a wall of separation between church and State.”

    Our current Supreme Court has not yet abandoned the 3-part test (from Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-13 (1971)), for determining whether a particular government action violates the Establishment Clause. Here is how the Lemon test was restated in a 1982 case, phrased to explain what must be shown in order to uphold the statute or government action:
    • The statute or government action must have a secular purpose.
    • Its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion.
    • It must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.
    If the statute or government action fails to satisfy any of the three prongs, then it violates the Establishment Clause.

    Back in 2005, during the same term, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a public display of the Ten Commandments in a county courthouse in one case (McCreary County, KY v. ACLU, 545 U.S. 844) and upheld a public display of the Ten Commandments on Texas state government property in another case (Van Orden v. Perry, 546 U.S. 677) where none of the several separate opinions received the affirmative vote of 5 Justices. A majority of Americans (and now, unfortunately, a majority of the Justices on the Supreme Court) seem to want government to regularly and officially affirm religious sentiments that are vague and general; the non-religious minority don’t like this for good reasons and feel excluded and relegated to “outsider” status; and so long as these governmental expressions of religiosity are not coercive or sectarian and don’t waste staggering amounts of money, the federal courts are usually going to allow these practices to continue.

    Federal courts have repeatedly upheld the Constitutionality of daily legislative prayer, for example, through the political expedient of finding that it is a long-standing tradition and therefore has a secular purpose (!!), or through the legalistic expedient of finding that the plaintiffs cannot show any particuarlized injury and therefore did not have legal standing to bring the lawsuit in the first place. The latter is the favorite “dodge” of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, which has done this again and again, most recently in Freedom of Religion Foundation v. Obama. In a long, carefully reasoned decision (705 F.Supp.2d 1039 [W.D.Wis. 2010], a Wisconsin District Court found that the National Day of Prayer statute (36 U.S. 119) violated the Establishment Clause. The 7th Circuit found that the plaintiffs did not have standing and reversed. 641 F.3d 803 (7th Cir. 2011). So it goes.


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