Like Gandhi, Obama believes in power of interfaith prayers

March 13th, 2009 - 11:03 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 13 (IANS) President Barack Obama, who has acknowledged Mahatma Gandhi as one of his inspirations, prefers to have interfaith prayers at rallies, and has thus opened “a new frontier of religious politics”.
Prayer has become more common at presidential appearances under the Obama administration, including at nonreligious events such as stimulus rallies, the Washington Post reported this week.

The White House is acting in a deliberately inclusive, interfaith way that seems to limit opposition, it said. The practice is reminiscent of Gandhiji’s meetings that invariably started with recitation of prayers from a variety of faiths.

Some experts say the policy, which Obama followed during the campaign too, does not appear to be illegal because the White House tells people who lead the prayers to be non-sectarian.

The policy, first reported in the US News & World Report, appears to continue a new White House approach to religion: invite piety and spirituality at every opportunity, but with a new emphasis on interfaith participants and atheists, the Post said.

Notably, In his inauguration speech too, Obama had memorably said: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this earth.”

Hours after that eventful day, on the morning of his first full day in office Jan 21, Obama went to the National Cathedral for an interfaith prayer service that was also attended by Vice President Joseph Biden, former president Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

That service featured 20 clergy representing various faiths, including woman leaders of the Hindu and Muslim faiths.

“To me, it’s entirely a new frontier of religious politics,” David Domke, University of Washington communications professor who has written about presidential rhetoric and religion, was quoted as saying. “Prayer will be different than what we’ve experienced since Reagan, with a much more substantial interfaith element.”

White House officials maintained the prayer policy is not a dramatic departure from previous presidents’ preferences or from Obama’s campaign days.

“Invocations have been standard practice for us since the beginning of the presidential campaign,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki. “We view it as a brief time of reflection before an event.”

Prayers have been said before Obama appearances at rallies for the economic stimulus programme, for example, in Florida, Indiana and Illinois, the report said.

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