This Week in God

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the official “National Day of Prayer,” held annually on the first Thursday in May by congressional decree. The “holiday,” such as it is, has effectively been taken over by the Dobson family, through their Day of Prayer Task Force.

Amy Sullivan noted that the effort to turn the Day of Prayer into a blatantly partisan exercise reached new depths this year.

The Dobsons came to Washington yesterday and hosted a gathering on Capitol Hill for the National Day of Prayer, an annual observance that President Obama officially established by proclamation earlier this week. Organizers must have lost Obama’s address, though (pssst! — 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue), because Adelle Banks from Religion News Service reported that they “invited former Sen. Elizabeth Dole to speak ‘on behalf of’ the executive branch, in lieu of a representative from the current administration.”

Okay, I understand that a lot of conservative evangelicals are not big Obama fans and are miffed that he doesn’t hold an official White House ceremony to mark the occasion. But really? Not one single member of the administration was considered a suitable participant? Not Hillary Clinton, who has talked about “prayer warriors” supporting her? Not Joe Biden, who we were reminded this week carries his rosary ring everywhere with him?

Maybe I’m reading this incorrectly and the Day of Prayer Task Force sent invitations far and wide throughout the administration, with no response. But it sounds like the National Day of Prayer — which hasn’t had much of a bipartisanship sheen for the past few decades anyway — is now officially a day of partisan prayer.

For the record, President Obama, like all of his modern predecessors, issued a National Day of Prayer proclamation. For more on why the annual event is problematic, my friends at Americans United for Separation of Church and State put together a worthwhile report.

Also from The God Machine this week:

* A prominent mosque in Portland, Maine, was attacked this week after the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death. Vandals spray-painted “Osama today, Islam tomorow [sic]” and other phrases as part of what local police officials are considering a hate crime. It’s the community’s first reported hate crime related to religion.

* House Speaker John Boehner will nominate the Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, a Jesuit priest and former Georgetown University chaplain, to become the new House chaplain. If approved, as seems likely, Conroy will be the chamber’s first Jesuit chaplain and third non-Protestant chaplain.

* And this story out of Tennessee is so outlandish, it’s hard to believe: “Two Muslim men were removed from a Delta commuter flight operated by Atlantic Southeast Airlines Friday after the pilot refused to fly with them on board.” [Update: as Caffeind reminds me, the Muslims were imams en route to a conference intended to “address prejudice against Muslims.” Seriously.)