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Trump marks National Day of Prayer with new faith initiative

President Trump speaks during a National Day of Prayer event in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 3, 2018, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

WASHINGTON (RNS) — President Trump marked his second National Day of Prayer at the White House by signing an executive order he said would protect the liberty of religious groups and give them fair access to government funds.

The new White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative will foster policies that acknowledge the “vital role of faith” in families, communities and the country, he said Thursday (May 3).

The ceremony, where Trump was surrounded by faith leaders, also coincided with the release of new reports on a scandal over the president’s alleged affair with an adult film star, who says she was paid during his run for office to be quiet about it.

The event also drew criticism from some religious leaders who accuse Trump of vilifying Muslims, privileging the rich over the poor and favoring the religious views of white evangelical Christians, who voted for him in overwhelming numbers.

The Rev. William Barber, a leader on the religious left, tweeted: “For @POTUS & @VP to stand in the Rose Garden for #NationalDayOfPrayer while promoting policies that hurt the least of these is height of hypocrisy. For some clergy to stand there & endorse this is a sham.”

Trump said his initiative would help assure that the government supported people of faith.

“This office will also help ensure that faith-based organizations have equal access to government funding and the equal right to exercise their deeply held beliefs,” he said. “We take this step because we know that in solving the many, many problems and our great challenges, faith is more powerful than government and nothing is more powerful than God.”

The audience in the sun-drenched Rose Garden applauded and a select group, including several evangelical leaders who have long advised him unofficially, gathered around the desk where Trump sat to sign the executive order. One — author Eric Metaxas — tweeted afterward about his delight at receiving one of the pens from the event.

The order, which succeeds similar efforts by the previous two administrations, changes the name of the most recently named White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. It notes that federal departments and agencies that do not currently have a center on faith-based issues will designate a liaison to the new office and coordinate with the as-yet-unnamed adviser who will lead it.


RELATED: New executive order aims to protect religious liberty from government overreach


Citing an October memorandum, the order says that all agencies of the administration will notify the attorney general of “concerns raised by faith-based and community organizations about any failures of the executive branch to comply with protections of Federal law for religious liberty.”

The order also said the initiative would draw on the expertise of faith and community leaders outside the federal government, including “State, local, and tribal governments,” to discuss topics such as poverty alleviation, substance abuse and addiction, strengthening marriages and families, and helping prisoners re-enter society.

During his remarks, Trump called to the podium two men who are now close friends united in efforts to aid prisoners — Jon Ponder, a one-time bank robber once held in solitary confinement, and Richard Beasley, the FBI agent who arrested him. Ponder is now the CEO of Hope for Prisoners, a Las Vegas nonprofit that assists with the transition out of prison.

“Your story reminds us that prayer changes hearts and transforms lives,” Trump told them. “It uplifts the soul, inspires action, and unites us all as one nation, under God. So important.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who attended the ceremony, welcomed the new moves by the administration aimed to enhance religious liberty.

“The announcement of President Trump’s faith initiative is further evidence that this administration is not only committed to protecting our First Freedom but in also acknowledging that our faith in God contributes to the guidance and well-being of our country,” Perkins said. “No longer are Americans punished or excluded from the public square because of their faith, rather they are welcomed and protected by our government.”

Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, attends a National Day of Prayer event at the Rose Garden of the White House on May 3, 2018, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Another who attended the event was Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and a participant in previous administrations’ work with faith-based groups.

“This bipartisan continuity is an important statement of principle and rebuttal to those who would seek to have government policy discriminate against faith-based entities,” Diament said.

Leaders of groups long concerned about church-state separation expressed worry and caution as they looked for more details about the administration’s plans.

Rachel Laser, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the executive order on religious liberty that Trump signed at last year’s National Day of Prayer ceremony led to policies that harmed LGBTQ people and women.

“Today’s order is one more attempt by Trump, cheered by his Evangelical Advisory Board, to redefine religious freedom to mean the freedom to discriminate against those who do not share your religious beliefs,” Laser said. “It boils down to religious freedom for all versus religious freedom for a select few.”

Others are concerned about how diverse a new council of advisers — called for in the executive order — would be in an administration headed by a president who once called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on” and who regularly seeks advice from members of an informal council composed only of evangelicals.

“We didn’t use faith to score political points for our preferred candidate, or to gain special privileges for one religion or ideology over others,” said the Rev. Jennifer Butler, former chair of the White House Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and CEO of Faith in Public Life.

“I encourage the new council to respect the important constitutional boundaries between church and state and to stand up to President Trump’s misguided attacks on vulnerable people,” Butler said.



RELATED: From Washington to Wyoming, leaders and locals prepare for prayer day


The White House ceremony began with a choir singing gospel music, including Hezekiah Walker’s “I Need You to Survive,” and featured prayers by evangelical, Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu speakers before Trump entered to applause.

When Cissie Graham Lynch, granddaughter of the late evangelist Billy Graham, prayed “in the precious name of Jesus,” the crowd agreed with amens. When she was followed by a Hindu priest, Narayanachar Digalakote of Lanham, Md., who mentioned different divine incarnations before saying “May God bless all the leaders, the lawmakers with the finest insight,” many participants kept their hands in their laps while others applauded his prayer.

At the conclusion of the event, as the applause subsided for the last time, a reporter in the back of the crowd shouted a question about Trump’s reaction to the latest juncture in coverage of the scandal about adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who says she was paid during his run for office to keep quiet about her affair with Trump. A supporter in the audience shouted back: “Shame on you!”

Earlier, the White House issued Trump’s proclamation declaring May 3 as the National Day of Prayer.

“May our Nation and our people never forget the love, grace, and goodness of our Maker, and may our praise and gratitude never cease,” he wrote. “On this National Day of Prayer, let us come together, all according to their faiths, to thank God for His many blessings and ask for His continued guidance and strength.”

While his proclamation encouraged “appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities in their houses of worship,” some groups that did not embrace the national prayer day created by Congress in 1952 opted to observe the Day of Reason.

“While we don’t begrudge individuals from choosing to celebrate the National Day of Prayer instead, when government entangles itself in such celebrations we find it to be inherently exclusionary and failing to uphold Jefferson’s Wall of Church and State Separation,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

38 Comments

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  • What is the Traitor-in-Chief’s prayer other than his getting a comfortable cell in prison with a non-aggressive cellmate?
    All too often, he’s gotten up to preach while hiding his payoffs to “adult entertainers” and his control by Russian infiltrators

    We should all pray that he walks off stage before any further embarrassment to ourselves and our families

  • Sure thing.

    Let’s back to Obama dealing with Putin and Kim Jong-un and replicating the Iran deal with John “the Ent” Kerry.

  • It’s official that religion is filled with nothing but a bunch of liars and hypocrites.

  • Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl delivered a prayer from a podium. Another attempt by the for-profit US media to cover-up the Catholic bishops’ support for Trump’s policies.

  • “Faith is more powerful than government, and nothing is more powerful than God.”
    — Donald Trump

    Sorry, Trump-haters and leftist-preachers. Your favorite target is scoring points here.

    For all his faults and drama, Trump at least gets it. He understands the real deal in this nation. Most refreshing.

  • The list of supporters reads like a role call for grifters, bigots and theocrats.

    Like any effective kleotocrat, Trump tries to ensure loyalty by allowing cronies access to public funds to steal.

    This “initiative” is nothing more than a method to attack anti discrimination efforts and for Bible thumping grifters to pocket taxpayer dollars.

    There are only two reasons people support this:
    1. They are will be the ones enforcing themselves at the public trough

    2. They are hoping executive branch power will be used to attack various groups they do not like.

    Greed and malice.

  • Man, you are easy to please!

    There isn’t a single act Trump has done as president which wasn’t motivated by greed, malice or ego.

    Malice appeals to rank and file Bible thumpers. Greed appeals to the people who lead them.

    If there is a single word to describe them it is:

    craven ;

  • You may wish to read the comment in context.

    Obama’s dealings with Putin and Kim Jong-un were hardly “successes”, unless you consider declaring Russia no problem and leaving the Democratic Party website unprotected and kicking the North Korea can down the road until it developed ballistic missiles capable of delivering its nuclear weapons a “success”.

    If that’s the case, you may went to put your name in for a Neville Chamberlain award.

  • “…equal right to exercise their deeply held beliefs,”.

    No. The rights of others must be respected and exercise of beliefs have to comply with our laws. The laws of the US trumps what you call god’s laws”.

  • The laws of the US superseedes the laws of any gods or faiths – that’s how we are a secular nation.

  • This is nothing but a clear violation of the separation of church & state. There should not be any government supported “National Day of Prayer”. It was hijacked by the evangelicals in the days of Senator McCarthy and only serves as a platform for their anti-American & anti-Christian messages.

  • He “gets it” alright — he gets it from porn stars and anyone else he can pussy-grab. Hypocritical bullshit. He’s as religious as his money can buy him religion.

  • You’re confused. That’s yesterday’s news. This is today’s news. #sackofhammers

  • Just wait until God gets him for his lying, his cheating, his amorality, three wives full and pussy grabbing all day. 4,500 lawsuits pending. He’s scoring … but not points! The deal in this nation is that people like you think you can deal with the devil. The devil is in the details — and they’re all on tape in the 21st century. Get a life, dude! Trump is the biggest bullshit artist and he’s playing you like the con man he is. #hucksternation

  • National Day of Prayer? Well, if anyone needs a prayer it’s Donald the Pussy Grabber Trump. 4,500 lawsuits pending for cheating workers, investors, and contractors. A $25-million payout for the fraud that was Trump University. His pussy grabbing caught on tape. His collusion with the Russians. His lying about the former President’s birth certificate, and knowing it was a lie. His other thousands of lies chronicled by the press and watchdogs who watch this rabid dog on the loose. Oh, and let’s not forget his cheating on wife #1 with wife #2, so he could dump her and marry nude model, soft corn porn Stepford wife #3 — and then cheat on her with porn stars that he lies about. Wow — this fool needs more than a prayer. He needs a sermon on the mount …except he’s too busy mounting hookers and playing golf to notice than his days (we can only hope) are numbered.

  • He knows how to cater to the religious right for their votes. That is all. Nothing in his past (or present) suggests he is a committed Christian. I’m sorry you find his lack of sincerity re-freshing.

  • Now he is paying them off for loyalty. Much like the rest of his advisors.

    Kleptocracy 101: Theft of public resources is far easier in a gang than by one’s self.

  • It’s hardly a cover-up not to mention each and every religious representative.

  • He gets it? Is that why he got Stormy?
    Actually, I do think Trump understands that faith is powerful, just not in the way you might think. Faith is what put him in office. Faith is what’s keeping his WE support in the 70s and 80s after so many revelations of unethical conduct. Faith is why they will never abandon him.

  • How dare those reporters sully Trump’s National Day of Religious Pomposity by bringing up his affair with a porn star and his gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight attempts to cover it up?? /s
    [Note to HpO: “/s” means I’m being sarcastic. Note to everyone else: I can’t believe I had to write that]
    The note about the amen chorus for the in-the-name-of-Jesus prayer and the crickets for the Hindu prayer says everything you need to know about the “interfaith” nature of this event.

  • Religious liberty and forcing all taxpayers to support religious institutions are opposites, but Trump and his minions and enablers would not understand that. — Edd Doerr

  • Very fair, informative and enjoyable article Adelle! Great photos. Thank you.

  • It is when Catholic officials are the religious representatives always omitted from U.S. media reporting.

  • Of course they do. Wuerl was asked by Trump inaugural committee to design the prayer service at the Nat’l Cathedral. Cardinal Dolan was the first to offer an inaugural prayer. Wuerl was also present – and called to the podium – at another Rose Garden ceremony last May to insure “religious freedom.” No progressive clergy are ever present at these events.

  • Of course they do not.

    Ceremonial prayers look like:

    “O God, whose mercies flow on this country in abundance, bless this xxxx as we yyyyy.”

    Support for Trump policies look like:

    “As Archbishop of Washington, I heartily endorse the President’s xxxx.”

    The reason why “no progressive clergy are ever present at these events”, assuming that to be the case, is they’re busy attending Democratic Party functions or marching against whatever is they’re marching against this week.

  • Actions speak louder than words. It’s their presence that counts which is why progressive clergy are not present.

  • Supporting the government and providing non-political religious participation in it does not constitute endorsement.

  • You have now passed from providing useful inside-baseball information about the Church into conspiracy theories. Sometimes an omission is just an omission.

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