Some Express Concern over Exclusivity in Politics and Prayer
Last week's National Day of Prayer drew attention to the role of prayer in public life, but for some, it also raised questions about whether the event is too exclusive. In Congress, the only openly atheist Congressman called for a National Day of Reason to replace the National Day of Prayer. And in Michigan, the Catholic Church in Michigan called on state lawmakers to welcome "elected officials of any faith" into the legislature's new prayer caucus.
In Michigan, there were concerns about the Day of Prayer from the Catholic Church. Church leaders were concerned about the Michigan Legislative Prayer Caucus, a new legislative group that held its first event on Wednesday. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and around 30 lawmakers met at the state capitol for prayer and a singing of "God Bless America." The caucus held a similar event on Thursday as part of the National Day of Prayer and the Michigan Day of Prayer.
The caucus describes itself as "a bipartisan body of believers of Scriptural Truth, adhering to established Judeo-Christian principles and Religious Liberties that were widely practiced by the Founders of these United States of America and the state of Michigan."
Dawud Walid, head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan (CAIR-MI) said that while elected officials may be guided by their religious beliefs, the new caucus sent a mixed signal.
"I'm somewhat troubled by the exclusionary language," Walid said. "On the one hand it's being articulated that it's open to all. On the other hand, there's some exclusionary language in there."
The Michigan Catholic Conference, the official representatives of the Catholic Church on policy issues, said the group should be welcoming of everyone and should respect religious liberty.
"The formation of the Prayer Caucus highlights the virtue of humility in the face of difficult policy decisions made by elected officials each and every day. Bringing together the various faith traditions that are represented in the Michigan Legislature sends a strong signal that differing faiths can find common ground in praying to God for courage, wisdom and strength," the conference said.
The group is bipartisan, but most of its members are Republican. Of the 30 state representatives in the caucus, two are Democrats. In the Michigan House, 47 of the 110 representatives are Democrats.
President Obama issued a proclamation last week recognizing the National Day of Prayer, inviting people "of all faiths" to participate.
"Prayer has always been a part of the American story, and today countless Americans rely on prayer for comfort, direction, and strength, praying not only for themselves, but for their communities, their country, and the world," Obama said.
Atheist Congressman Pete Stark went to the House floor to recognize the "National Day of Reason," an alternative celebration advocated by some atheists.
"In a nation of citizens from so many different backgrounds and beliefs, the only way we can solve our problems is through cultivating intelligent, moral, and ethical interactions among all people," Stark said.
The National Day of Reason was not officially recognized by the U.S. Government, but several local and state officials issued proclamations. The National Day of Reason was officially recognized through proclamations in New Orleans, Louisiana, Omaha, Nebraska, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Nebraska Governor Dave Neineman also issued a proclamation.
The prayer caucus in the U.S. Congress appears ecumenical. The congressional group states its first priority is "to recognize the vital role that prayer by individuals of all faiths has played in uniting us as a people and in making us a more generous, more cooperative, and more forgiving people than we might otherwise have been."
Co-chairmen of the caucus, Rep. Forbes (R-VA) and Congressman McIntyre (D-NC), introduced the America's Spiritual Heritage Resolution. The caucus describes this legislation as "[affirming] the rich spiritual and diverse religious history of our nation's founding and subsequent history" designating the first week of May as American Spiritual Heritage Week. The caucus website, however, features a floor speech by Forbes that was more specific on the history the bill seeks to celebrate.
"That's why we have filed the Spiritual Heritage Resolution, to help reaffirm that great history of faith that we have in this nation and to say to those individuals who have yielded to the temptation of concluding that we are no longer a Judeo-Christian nation, to come back," Forbes said. "To come back and look at those great principles that birthed this nation, and sustain us today."