Monday, February 8, 2010

Controversial Pancakes

This article from the New York Times describes the events prior to the recently held National Prayer Breakfast. The Prayer Breakfast is an event where top political, military and religious leaders from the United States meet in an effort to network with each other. While the official Prayer Breakfast is held in Washington D.C. there were a host of similar and competing events in major cities throughout the country. On the surface, these events seem to be wholly sponsored by the government. However, this is not necessarily the case. As the article states, the Prayer Breakfast is primarily sponsored and coordinated by the Evangelical Christian group known as “The Family.” This secretive religious group uses its behind the scenes influence in the political realm at various types of these networking events. A major concern about the Breakfast is that a religious group is involving itself directly in political affairs. Many American citizens are not comfortable with having a religious entity, especially one not widely known to the public, influencing powerful political officials.

The main topic of this article involves The Family pushing their anti-gay rights views onto government officials. The Prayer Breakfast is a national forum in which their beliefs can be made evident to the government. While the article explains the implications of allowing this group to articulate their anti-gay sentiments to federal officials, I believe that the Prayer Breakfast shows a more overarching legal and political problem in the United States. The Family, much like any other interest group, has the right to make their beliefs known to government. However, a larger issue forms when the institution sponsoring a governmental event is overtly religious. Should it be permissible for the government to be involved in an event that is sponsored by a specific religious organization? (Below is a video from the Prayer Breakfast which was held last week.)

This question becomes even cloudier considering The Family is not a well publicized group. They have no formal structure and tend to make their impact in Washington without much public recognition. I contend that the problem with allowing groups like this, or any religious group, to sponsor a political event stems from the American ideal of the separation of Church and State. This First Amendment legal issue has become a prevalent topic over the past decade. In this particular instance however, there is a direct overlapping of religious and political institutions. By allowing a group such as The Family direct access to federal officials, it gives the impression that certain religious causes have stronger political influence than others. This in turn, alienates citizens with alternative religious, or non-religious, beliefs. This realization appears to have some severe legal implications. Government officials attending the National Prayer Breakfast goes against every lesson about the necessary aspects of having separate political and religious spheres. While it is the case that any interest group can sponsor an event with prominent politicians in attendance, it seems strange that the largely unknown religious organization The Family is allowed to network annually with the most powerful diplomats of the United States. In my opinion, it is reasonable for individuals, religious or not, to be upset by the involvement of The Family in this event. American citizens should not simply be upset with the fact that The Family sponsors anti-gay sentiments, but rather that religious groups are allowed such direct attachment to political affairs.

A counterargument to my, and many others, issue with the National Prayer Breakfast states that these religious groups should be allowed to voice their opinions to the government just like any other institution. Admittedly, there is no empirical evidence that The Family has any more influence over political affairs than any other interest group in Washington. But this should not be the primary concern of this event. It is undoubtedly the right of every interest group to attempt to garner political support for their causes. In this light, The Family is no different. However, it is the mere possibility of a solely religious influence in the political system that is both politically and legally questionable. Therefore, it is still necessary to question the legitimacy of these types of events. The First Amendment appears to get blurred when top leaders from both spheres “network” over a fresh stack of pancakes. But given the long lineage of government officials attending this event, it appears that nothing will be changing in the near future.

Justin M.

1 comment:

Jessica B said...

This whole breakfast deal definitely seems a little fishy. There is a pretty bold line between sharing your rightfully had political views and holding secret breakfasts to discuss your religious views with government officers. It is evident from this groups influence in Uganda that they are more interested in spreading their religious beliefs than contributing to the American government. The main issue with these meetings is their secrecy from the public. “They have no formal structure and tend to make their impact in Washington without much public recognition.” The people of the country have a right to know what possibly influential facts (or lack there of) are being portrayed to the government. Allowing this group special access to Washington and its officials definitely gives the Christian voice a microphone and crosses the division between church and state.