CFI Pleased with Obama’s Decision on National Day of Prayer, Still Objects to Government Endorsement

For Immediate Release: May 7, 2009
Contact: Nathan Bupp, Vice President of Communications - (207) 358-9785

(Amherst, New York) — The Center for Inquiry commends President Obama for deciding to scale back the observance of today’s National Day of Prayer. Past observances have included an ecumenical service in the East Room of the White House each year on the first Thursday of May. This year President Obama has decided to change course by issuing a proclamation acknowledging Thursday, May 7, 2009 as a national day of prayer, without holding any official public events. This has enraged religious groups on the right, while pleasing groups committed to upholding a strong separation between church and state.

“We are delighted that the President has seen fit to curtail official White House observance of this day of prayer, which we believe to be a violation of the First Amendment, which says that congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. In doing so, Obama has abandoned the practice of former President George W. Bush, who each year held a public prayer service at the White House with religious leaders in attendance, effectively resulting in a government endorsement of religious observance,” said Paul Kurtz, chairman and founder of the Center for Inquiry.

While obviously pleased with this change, CFI President and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay sounded a note of caution, saying that “the whole idea of having an official National Day of Prayer is both illogical and unconstitutional. The government has no business endorsing religious practices, and the notion that a deity desires mandated prayers is absurd — even barbaric."

Lindsay says that the decision to pray or not to pray is a private issue, one best left to individuals exercising their freedom of conscience, not the state. “We are pleased that the Executive Branch now appears to have some regard for separation of church and state. We hope Congress will have the same regard some day,” added Lindsay.

The Center for Inquiry/Transnational, a nonprofit, educational, advocacy, and scientific-research think tank based in Amherst, New York, is also home to the Council for Secular Humanism, founded in 1980; and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP), founded in 1976. The Center for Inquiry’s research and educational projects focus on three broad areas: religion, ethics, and society; paranormal and fringe-science claims; and sound public policy. The Center’s Web site is


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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at