Fact checker: Obama Muslim prayer meme is false

c. 2012 Religion News Service
(RNS) The people behind a popular chain e-mail about President Obama and
the National Day of Prayer might want to think about the sin of omission.
That's omission, as in omitting facts.

The widely circulated e-mail claims that Obama canceled a National Day of
Prayer ceremony at the White House in 2009, but later that year, a National
Day of Prayer for Muslims was permitted on Capitol Hill, beside the White

The e-mail reads, in part: "This year President Obama canceled the 21st annual National Day of Prayer
ceremony at the White House under the ruse of 'not wanting to offend
anyone.' BUT ... on September 25, 2009 from 4 AM until 7 PM, a National Day of
Prayer FOR THE MUSLIM RELIGION was HELD on Capitol Hill, Beside the White

Most of the claims in the e-mail don't have a prayer of being accurate,
according to an analysis by PolitiFact New Jersey.

Let's start with the origins of the National Day of Prayer, which is an
annual observance for people of all faiths.

President Truman established the day as a national event in 1952. In 1988,
President Reagan signed a resolution designating the first Thursday in May
as the National Day of Prayer. Every president since -- including Obama --
has issued a proclamation to recognize the day.

Obama, however, has not held a White House ceremony to mark the National
Day of Prayer as President George W. Bush did for eight years. President
George H.W. Bush held one, in 1989, and Reagan also held one, in 1982.
President Clinton had none. So, there have not been 21 annual National Day of
Prayer ceremonies, as the e-mail claims.

In fact-checking this e-mail, a basic Google search finds at least 30
published reports that debunk various claims in it. While those reports confirm
Obama decided against the public White House ceremony, none state exactly

In a May 7, 2009, CNN video, a representative with the Christian Broadcast
Network speculated the cancellation might stem from publicity about
controversial comments once made by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's longtime
pastor in Chicago. Other articles imply that a statement in Obama's inaugural
speech about inclusivity of all religions might have been a factor.
At the time, then-White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said of Obama's
plans on the National Day of Prayer (his first as president): "Privately,
he'll pray as he does every day."

The same is expected this year.

"As he has done each of the last three years, President Obama will
continue to recognize the National Day of Prayer," White House spokesman Brandon
Lepow said in an e-mail.

Next, let's review the claim about "a National Day of Prayer FOR THE
MUSLIM RELIGION" being held "on Capitol Hill, Beside the White House."
The Jummah Prayer on Capitol Hill event was a one-time only event that was
coordinated by the Dar-ul-Islam mosque in Elizabeth, N.J., to "clear up
myths about Muslims," said Imam Ali Jaaber, who attended the Sept. 25, 2009,

It was privately organized and never was billed as a National Day Of
Prayer. In fact, the two Muslim members of Congress did not attend.
Hassen Abdellah, board president at Dar-ul-Islam, organized the event in
response to positive remarks by Obama in his inaugural speech and another
speech five months later in Egypt about welcoming and acknowledging the
presence of Muslims in the United States, Jaaber said.

Also, Capitol Hill is more than a mile from the White House, not beside
it. And, "Muslim" is not a religion; a person who follows the religion of
Islam is a Muslim.

The chain e-mail about Obama and the National Day of Prayer is full of
inaccuracies. While it is true Obama did not hold a public ceremony at the
White House as President George W. Bush did, it's untrue the ceremony would
have been the 21st annual event. The e-mail's author also incorrectly located
Capitol Hill as "beside" the White House and identified Muslim as a

Despite the numerous errors in the e-mail, it does contain an element of
truth -- and that fits the Truth-O-Meter's definition for Mostly False.

Caryn Shinske

Caryn Shinske writes for, a project of The Star-Ledger of Newark.

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