Religious freedom is a core American value. It protects the right of every person to believe as they choose, including the freedom to follow the faith tradition of our choosing or to be nonreligious, secular, or an atheist. This diversity of belief – protected by the First Amendment – has made our nation stronger.
But there is a concerted effort underway by the Religious Right to distort the meaning of religious freedom. Since its inception, the National Prayer Breakfast has been a platform for the Religious Right to present a conservative Christian agenda. Every year, the involvement of elected officials – including the president – bolsters this movement, and lends legitimacy to the idea that our government must be guided by a narrow Christian viewpoint.
The separation of religion and government must be honored at every turn. By participating in the National Prayer Breakfast, President Biden and other elected officials lend credence to advocates on the Religious Right who would undermine true religious freedom.
A Platform for the Religious Right
The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual gathering of faith leaders and politicians held in Washington D.C. on the first Thursday in February. Since President Dwight Eisenhower attended the first Presidential Prayer Breakfast in 1953, every sitting U.S. president has attended the event at least once during their term. It is a private event sponsored by a Religious Right organization known as The Family, with a bipartisan committee serving as honorary hosts.
According to the event registration website, “the purpose of the National Prayer Breakfast is to gather people from all over the world to pray for our leaders and to walk with them on the path that Jesus sets forth for all of us.” Though attendees include players from across political and religious ideologies, its longtime organizers use the event as a vehicle for their conservative Christian beliefs.
Conflating Christian and Constitutional Values
This year, the National Prayer Breakfast was limited to members of Congress, speakers, and their spouses. Though the limited guest list was partially due to restrictions related to COVID-19, past co-chair Sen. Chris Coons stated it was also due to an effort by organizers to “refocus the event on being principally about the president, Congress, a few prayers and readings and an inspiring keynote.” Though the guest list may have changed, the content remained almost exclusively Christian and often conflated our constitutional values with Chrisitan beliefs. In the opening prayer, Sen. Rafael Warnock equated the “covenant codified in scripture” with the one “codified in our charter documents.”
In his remarks delivered at the 2022 National Prayer Breakfast, President Biden stated that people, regardless of “how we choose to pray or whether or we choose to pray,” we “deserve to be treated equally throughout [our] lives.” This sentiment lives in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prevents the government from codifying religious beliefs into law, favoring religion over non-religion, or giving special treatment to adherents of one faith and not others.
Over the past year, we’ve been proud to join with the Biden administration in promoting an inclusive vision of religious freedom. But by participating in an event bankrolled by the Religious Right, the president, and like-minded colleagues turn their backs on the very people they have spent their careers defending. Our elected officials must protect the separation of religion and government at every opportunity and honor the diversity of faiths and philosophies in the United States.
Learn more about Interfaith Alliance’s efforts to protect true religious freedom.