Obama Scales Back on Prayer Day

Prez won't publicly celebrate the national day of worship

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President Barack Obama won't publicly celebrate National Prayer Day Thursday, breaking from a long-held White House tradition that has, in the past, seen the day greeted with a ceremonial flood of pomp and circumstance in the Oval Office.

The President will sign a proclamation to acknowledge the occasion -- held each year on the first Thursday in May -- but has refused to host public events with religious leaders, drawing a firestorm of criticism from spiritual organizations across the country.

Unlike President George W. Bush, Obama's observance of the day will be muted, restricted to a private signing of a document acknowledging the day rather than a large-scale political event.

White House officials said the President's decision to quiet National Day of Prayer celebrations didn't mean he was against the practice of worship -- but rather, that he wanted to change the large-scale Bush-era celebrations of the past.

"Prayer is something the president does every day," Obama's press secretary Robert Gibbs told the Los Angeles Times.

"I think the president understands, in his own life and in his family's life, the role that prayer plays."

Christian conservatives expressed fury at the decision to downplay the day of prayer in Washington, saying the President didn't understand the "importance" of worship.

"We are disappointed in the lack of participation by the Obama administration," said Shirley Dobson, chairman of the National Day of Prayer task force and the wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.

"At this time in our country's history, we would hope our President would recognize more fully the importance of prayer."

The President drew criticism earlier this year for allegedly asking officials to cover up religious figures at a speech he made at Georgetown University.

Obama is also the first commander in chief to acknowledge non-believers in an inaugural address.

"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and non-believers," he said as he was sworn in. 

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