This is the problem with ceremonial prayer

As justice William Brennan said in his incisive dissent to the majority ruling in the 1983 Marsh v. Chambers case that ruled that ceremonial prayer to open the legislative sessions was constitutional, the trouble with prayer is that you have no control over what the prayer giver will say even if you prescribe what prayers are acceptable, which you are not allowed to do anyway since that would be tantamount to having an official government prayer.

And we see that Brennan was indeed prophetic because of what happened yesterday at the supposedly ‘nonpolitical, nonpartisan’ National Day of Prayer, one of those occasions that public figures love and pander to, where they can show their piety publicly. It is supposed to be an occasion for bland pious utterances that anyone can get behind such as extolling America’s uniqueness and greatness, which is a surefire crowd pleaser.

But James Dobson, founder of the extremist Christian group Focus on the Family, threw a wrench in the works and took the occasion to attack president Obama on the issue of abortion, saying, “President Obama, before he was elected, made it very clear that he wanted to be the abortion president. He didn’t make any bones about it. This is something that he really was going to promote and support, and he has done that, and in a sense he is the abortion president.”

This caused one congresswoman Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.) to walk out in protest, pointing her finger at Dobson and saying, “This is inappropriate”.

But what is truly inappropriate is having such an occasion at all and Hahn shares the blame because she herself is co-chair of the weekly congressional prayer breakfast and thus an active promoter of this kind of nonsense.

It is probably a good thing that people like Dobson use these occasions as political events. Maybe that will make people realize that you cannot contain extemporaneous prayer within boundaries and the best thing is to avoid having governmental prayer events altogether.


  1. says

    Oh, wow. So it’s worse than I thought. 🙁
    The article I saw quoted her claiming the event was to be “nonpartisan” and “nonpolitical.” My thought then, as it still is now, was “How naive.” Apparently not only naive, but without excuse, too. I’d have hoped someone in her position would know better.

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