WASHINGTON — The Interfaith Alliance and Jews on First called on President Obama to proclaim an "inclusive" national day of prayer May 7 instead of endorsing a National Day of Prayer Task Force headed by Shirley Dobson.
Signed by Interfaith Alliance president Welton Gaddy and Jews on First co-directors Jane Hunter and Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, the letter dated April 21 said the National Day of Prayer, established by President Truman, several years ago was taken over by "exclusivists" in a group that "systematically excludes Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Catholics and even mainline Christians from National Prayer Day events it conducts around the United States."
For the last eight years, the wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, organized National Day of Prayer ceremonies in the East Room at the White House. That drew criticism from religious liberty groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State claiming the event had been hijacked by the Religious Right and used for a political agenda.
The National Day of Prayer Task Force says on its Web site the National Day of Prayer is for people of all faiths, but the task force represents a "Judeo-Christian" expression of the observance. Part of its mission statement is "mobilizing the Christian community" to pray for America, and 40,000 volunteer coordinators implementing local events are expected to adhere to "biblical principles through Jesus Christ."
According to Religion News Service, a spokesman said in the past a White House liaison contacted the National Day of Prayer Task Force asking about participation in White House events but this year the organization hasn't "heard a peep" from the Obama administration.
Joshua DuBois, executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, told RNS it is too early to be talking about planning for the event.
In the meantime, the task force plans to broadcast its Capitol Hill service from 9 a.m. till noon on Thursday, May 7, live via webcast and through GOD TV on Direct TV and Sky Angel.
Honorary co-chair for this year's event is Beth Moore, an author and Bible teacher who attends First Baptist Church in Houston. Also taking part are NFL coach Tony Dungy, entertainer Ricky Skaggs and NASCAR legend and current Fox Sports analyst Darrell Waltrip.
The Interfaith Alliance/Jews on First letter discouraged President Obama from issuing a separate proclamation to the National Day of Prayer Task Force, claiming the group has a record of using such statements to raise the status of its events.
The letters said making the group's events appear to be official and endorsed by the government crosses First Amendment lines separating government from religion.
Instead the leaders urged Obama to issue "a single proclamation for the day that calls for an Inclusive National Day of Prayer and Reflection that restores and reflects our nation's best values by explicitly inviting clergy from diverse faith traditions to participate equally and fully — especially in events held on government property."
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.