Political Notebook

Prayer Day receives ecumenical treatment

May 8, 2009
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President Obama's latest break from his predecessor drew ire among some Christian groups.

While President Bush held formal events in the White House each year to mark the National Day of Prayer, Obama opted yesterday for a private observance and a decidedly ecumenical proclamation. The proclamation cites the "one law that binds all great religions together: the Golden Rule and its call to love one another, to understand one another, and to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth."

Praising the armed forces, he says "it is because of them that we continue to live in a nation where people of all faiths can worship or not worship according to the dictates of their conscience."

Shirley Dobson, chairwoman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, said it was "disappointed in the lack of participation by the Obama administration" in the 58th annual observance. "At this time in our country's history, we would hope our president would recognize more fully the importance of prayer," she said in a statement.

But other religious groups praised Obama for dialing back the observance and accused the task force of trying to exclude non-Christians. Dobson is the wife of James Dobson of Focus on the Family, a politically active Christian conservative group.

"It is a shame that the National Day of Prayer Task Force seems to think it owns the National Day of Prayer," said the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, which sent a letter to Obama urging him to make this year's observance more inclusive of other faiths.

"President Obama is not the pastor in chief of the nation and Shirley Dobson's task force is not the spiritual judge of the president's personal or official actions," Gaddy said in a statement.


Senate OK's police chief as drug czar pick
WASHINGTON - The Senate yesterday approved the nomination of Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske as the nation's director of National Drug Control Policy, signaling a change in US drug policy.

Kerlikowske, a 36-year law enforcement veteran who has been Seattle's top cop for nine years, pledged to focus on reducing demand for drugs - a sharp contrast from the Bush administration's focus on intercepting drugs as they cross the border and punishing drug crimes.

Obama's pick to oversee food and drug safety breezed through her confirmation hearing yesterday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.

Dr. Margaret Hamburg, 53, bioterrorism expert and a former New York City health commissioner, pledged to revamp protection of the nation's food supply to help prevent future disease outbreaks.

The full Senate is expected to vote on her nomination before Memorial Day.


Education concerns unite an odd trio
An odd political troika met with President Obama yesterday on education reform: civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

After what he called an upbeat meeting, Sharpton said, "We have a crisis of inequality" in US education, noting the persistent "achievement gap" between black and white students.

"I think this is an issue that should bring all Americans together," Gingrich chimed in, saying that education should be a civil rights issue for the 21st century.