President Obama is distancing himself from the National Day of Prayer by nixing a formal early morning service and not attending a large Catholic prayer breakfast the next morning.
All Mr. Obama will do for the National Day of Prayer, which is Thursday, is sign a proclamation honoring the day, which originated in 1952 when Congress set aside the first Thursday in May for the observance.
For the past eight years, President George W. Bush invited selected Christian and Jewish leaders to the White House East Room, where he typically would give a short speech and several leaders offered prayers.
Shirley Dobson, chairwoman of the National Day of Prayer Committee, said the group was “disappointed in the lack of participation by the Obama administration.”
“At this time in our country’s history, we would hope our president would recognize more fully the importance of prayer,” said Mrs. Dobson, who occupied a prominent seat in the front row for the ceremonies during the Bush administration.
Although the annual East Room events started with Mr. Bush, President Reagan hosted a Rose Garden event in 1982 and President George H.W. Bush scheduled a breakfast in 1989.
President Clinton did not host any special observances, according to the National Day of Prayer task force.
Some evangelicals said they were not surprised by Mr. Obama’s decision.
“For those of us who have our doubts about Obama’s faith, no, we did not expect him to have the service,” said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America. “But as president, he should put his own lack of faith aside and live up to the office.”
Referencing a remark the president made at a recent press conference in Turkey that Americans “do not consider ourselves a Christian nation,” she added: “That was projecting his own beliefs, but not reflecting what the majority of Americans feel. It’s almost like Obama is trying to remake America into his own image. This is not a rejection of Shirley Dobson; it’s a rejection of the concept that America is a spiritual nation and its foundation is Judeo-Christian.”
David Brody, White House correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, said in a column that, “within the conservative evangelical community, there was never any real expectation that the White House would hold an event.”
However, the White House did host an April 9 Passover Seder for family and friends - the first time a president has hosted that Jewish religious meal.
But the president passed up the fifth annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, scheduled for the Washington Hilton and expected to have 1,300 participants.
Joe Cella, a spokesman for the effort, said the White House never asked for Mr. Obama to attend.
Mr. Bush did ask to come and always made a few brief remarks. But the new president, Mr. Cella said, would not have been allowed to speak because of a 2004 directive from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops saying that public figures who have taken positions opposing Catholic doctrine should not be publicly honored.