President Obama will sign a proclamation recognizing today as a National Day of Prayer (NDP). Notably, the President will not continue George W. Bush’s practice of holding a “formal White House event.” In response, conservative commentators in recent days have been suggesting that Obama is in some way attempting to downplay the significance of the NDP — and faith in general.
Limbaugh went so far as to suggest that Obama was trying to “cancel” the NDP, while the National Day of Prayer Task Force issued a statement suggesting that Obama was departing from historical tradition. The task force claimed that Obama’s decision was “contrary to the administrations of President George W. Bush, President George H. W. Bush, and President Ronald Reagan.”
This morning on Fox and Friends, co-host Steve Doocey echoed the claim that Reagan and George H. W. Bush held events similar to that of George W. Bush. Guest Elisabeth Hasselbeck asserted that public events at the White House on the National Day of Prayer stretched back to President Truman and strangely suggested that Obama’s decision was interfering in Americans’ right to “gather and pray” in public:
HASSELBECK: This has been a tradition in our country in our country since 1952 with Truman. … I think that we are looking to him today to lead this country and this has been a huge tradition. It has also been one that has been protected in our country through our constitution. We should be able to gather and pray as we see fit.
In reality, it was Bush who broke with tradition by holding official White House events on the NDP. Indeed, as the National Day of Prayer Task Force spokesperson Brian Toon explained on May 1, “There was no East Room event until George W.” And despite the Task Force’s claim today that Reagan and H. W. Bush were in the habit holding White House events on the NDP, U.S. News and World Report explains that each of them held such events only once during their presidencies.
Asked by ThinkProgress about the Task Force’s false statements, Rev. Susan Thistlethwaite, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, pointed out that the organization is chaired by Shirley Dobson — wife of the ultraconservative Focus on the Family founder James Dobson. Indeed, the fact that conservatives and the Task Force in particular feel the need to lie about the history and traditions surrounding the NDP suggests that they are less concerned with promoting prayer in America than they are with taking every possible opportunity to “slam Obama” for political gain.