If anyone was still unconvinced prior to yesterday that the National Day of Prayer (NDP) is little more than a fundamentalist Christian political rally, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson’s rant on Capitol Hill should have erased any doubts.
During an event organized by the National Day of Prayer Task Force (a non-profit run by conservative evangelical Christians) and attended by members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Dobson slammed President Barack Obama, calling him the “abortion president.”
In a lengthy rant at an event that was supposed to be about prayer, not politics, Dobson attacked Obama primarily for his support of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, which says that most businesses must offer insurance plans to their employees that include access to no-cost birth control.
“President Obama, before he was elected, made it very clear that he wanted to be the abortion president,” Dobson fulminated. “He didn’t make any bones about it. This is something that he really was going to promote and support, and he has done that, and in a sense he is the abortion president.”
He also called the regulations “wicked” and vowed to never abide by them.
Dobson’s opposition to the birth control mandate isn’t exactly a secret. His Family Talk radio program recently won a temporary reprieve from offering employees birth control in their insurance plans thanks to a legal challenge. Dobson claims his 28-employee organization is a Christian ministry and therefore should be exempt on religious grounds.
But Dobson apparently didn’t know his audience at the prayer event, which included Democrats. One, U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.) became so incensed by Dobson’s words that she walked out. Before she did, she pointed a finger at Dobson and said: “This is inappropriate!”
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Hahn, who is co-chair of the weekly congressional prayer breakfast, said Dobson did not respect the intended nature of the National Day of Prayer.
“Dobson just blew a hole into this idea of being a non-partisan National Day of Prayer,” Hahn said. “It was very disturbing to me … and really a shame. James Dobson hijacked the National Day of Prayer -- this non-partisan, non-political National Day of Prayer -- to promote his own distorted political agenda.”
While Americans United has long opposed the NDP, if it must continue to exist it should be non-partisan and non-political, as Hahn said. Even the NDP Task Force has said as much.
“This is not about proselytizing,” NDP Task Force Vice Chairman John Bornschein said in April in response to accusations that the event panders to the right wing. “This is purely about prayer and praying for our leadership and asking for God's wisdom and blessing over our leaders.”
The problem is, intolerant fundamentalist Christians like Dobson are not interested in respecting a collegial atmosphere. Congress created the NDP in 1952 to distinguish America from those “godless” communists in the Soviet Union, but the Religious Right hijacked the event in the 1980s and ever since it has been little more than an opportunity for pushing the right wing’s narrow political agenda and discriminating against non-believers and others who don’t support the Religious Right.
As for Dobson, he has struggled to remain relevant since stepping down from Focus on the Family in 2009. But he had no trouble getting a speaking gig for the National Day of Prayer because his wife, Shirley, chairs the NDP Task Force.
It’s probably just as well that Dobson has no respect for decorum, because he showed the true nature of this event: it’s about advancing a far-right agenda and spewing hatred toward Obama.
(Dobson also showed that he doesn’t have a clue about the mandate. If birth control is easier to access, there will be less need for abortions. If Obama was truly the “abortion president,” why would he advocate a policy that reduces the need for abortion?)
Of course fundamentalists like Dobson, who has long pushed dodgy ideas about marriage and child rearing from a fundamentalist perspective, have no use for reason or facts. And it probably never even occurred to him that someone in the audience for his speech might be offended because for so long the NDP has been an opportunity to spout fundamentalist rhetoric.
Obama is required to recognize the NDP, which he did yesterday. But he doesn’t make much fuss over it, certainly not the way President George W. Bush did during his time in the White House. Of course this has drawn the ire of the Dobson crowd, but the president’s position makes sense. Why should Obama associate with those who clearly hate him?
(For what it’s worth, Obama’s official proclamation called on Americans to remember the people around the world who truly are oppressed and denied religious liberty, as opposed to whiners like Dobson.)
As tactless as it was, Dobson’s rant raised an important question: Why was Hahn the only official who walked out? It’s sad that no one else displayed similar courage.
Until more people stand up to the tyranny of the Religious Right, that movement will continue to be a powerful force in America, and the NDP will remain a vehicle for fundamentalist zealots to use the faith they claim to treasure to score cheap political points.