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Obama asserting authoritarian control on Prayer Day says Limbaugh

By Jimmy Orr / May 6, 2009

President Obama is commemorating the National Day of Prayer differently than his predecessor. The president is issuing a proclamation whereas former President George W. Bush had a public ceremony to mark the day. This has led Rush Limbaugh to say Obama is "asserting his authoritarian control."

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The National Day of Prayer is canceled?

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No. President Obama doesn't have the authority to cancel the National Day of Prayer. Although if you were listening to Rush Limbaugh this afternoon you might get that impression.

Limbaugh said the decision to commemorate the annual event differently from the past administration amounts to President Obama "asserting his authoritarian control."

"They say he prays privately," Limbaugh said. "I have no doubt. Who does he pray to? Does he pray to himself?"

Back up

Although remarks like this are no surprise coming from Limbaugh, they do underscore a difference in opinion over how the day should be commemorated.

It is true that Obama is deviating from the way President George W. Bush marked the day. The past president made it more of an event inviting religious leaders to the White House and having a full-out ceremony during his eight years.

Obama is recognizing the day like most other presidents have -- with a proclamation. Although President Reagan held a Rose Garden event in 1982 and President George H.W. Bush hosted a breakfast in 1989.

Participate

Obama will issue a proclamation and pray privately said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

"Prayer is something that the President does every day," Gibbs said yesterday at his press briefing. "I think, given some of the issues that you all have denoted today, it might be a healthy thing. But we're doing a proclamation, which I know that many administrations in the past have done."

Not pleased

The National Day of Prayer Task Force isn't thrilled with the decision. The task force is a privately-funded conservative group whose mission includes "mobilizing the Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership." The group also seeks to "publicize and preserve America's Christian heritage."

"We are disappointed in the lack of participation by the Obama Administration," said task force chairwoman Shirley Dobson. "At this time in our country's history, we would hope our President would recognize more fully the importance of prayer."

Gibbs said he does.

"I think the President understands, in his own life and in his family's life, the role that prayer plays," Gibbs said. "And I would denote that administrations prior to the past one did proclamations. That's the way the President will publicly observe National Prayer Day. But as I said, privately he'll pray as he does every day."

Pleased

Although Limbaugh and the task force are upset, there are others who applaud the move.

The American Atheists, for example, are supportive. "It's not his job to tell people to pray," a national spokesperson for the organization told CNN.

"We are very happy he did away with the George W. Bush-era celebrations and party, but we wish he wouldn't do it at all," he added. "When church and state are separate, separate is separate."

And the Secular Coalition of America says it's a "good first step."

"Generally, we don’t want the federal government to endorse prayer because it’s endorsing a specific religion," said spokesman Ron Millar. "We’d rather them not be in that business. It would be difficult to be all-inclusive on this.”

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