WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak at the annual National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday. It’s one of a number of controversial events with religious overtones on Washington’s political calendar.
The National Prayer Breakfast is a chance for influential Americans and foreign dignitaries to hear the president talk about his faith, as he did last year.
"In my moments of prayer, I’m reminded that faith and values play an enormous role in motivating us to solve some of our most urgent problems," Obama said.
Gatherings that focus on prayer are an integral part of Washington’s political calendar and the president’s attendance is often expected.
Public policy professor Mark Rozell, an expert on religion and the presidency, said, "People expect to have a president of strong religious faith, and they are comfortable with the president engaging in public displays of religious faith and commitment."
But not everybody agrees.
"Technically it’s not a violation of the Constitution for the president of the United States to go to a religious event that’s off public property," said Barry Lynn, a minister in the United Church of Christ and director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "This is held in a big hotel. But I’m very troubled by the way that politicians in the United States tend to want to use religion for political purposes, giving speeches that quote Jesus, as if Jesus was supposed to be making decisions about how we develop an anti-gun policy or run a budget."
It’s a difficult balancing act for Obama. An increasing number of Americans describe themselves as religously unaffiliated, and they were crucial in his re-election victory last year.