Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Presidential Events Around the Country Are Being Opened by Vetted Prayers

In a little-noticed development, President Barack Obama's town halls and speaking events around the country are being opened with invocations from invited clergy. Yesterday's U.S. News & World Report says that in an unprecedented move, the White House is not only asking clergy who are recommended by local politicians to deliver opening prayers, but is requiring vetting of the text with the White House Office of Public Liaison before it is delivered. The practice has so far not engendered controversy because the prayer is delivered before the President arrives at the event, and before cable television begins its coverage.

At least three recent events have followed this pattern: a town hall in Elkhart, Indiana; a speech in Ft. Myers, Florida on the stimulus bill; and an appearance near Phoenix (AZ) to unveil the mortgage bailout plan. At the Phoenix event, the invocation was delivered by a member of the Tohono O'odham Nation. He was required to depart from the Native American practice of improvised prayer, writing his text in advance so it could be e-mailed to the White House. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, complained: "The only thing worse than having these prayers in the first place is to have them vetted, because it entangles the White House in core theological matters."