Chris Matthews left unchallenged Family Research Council president Tony Perkins's false suggestion that President Bush has never "led the nation in prayer." In fact, Bush has issued 17 separate proclamations for a total of 25 national days of prayer since he took office -- including one in which he led the nation in prayer after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
On the March 29 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews left unchallenged Family Research Council president Tony Perkins's false assertion that President Bush has never "led the nation in prayer." Perkins claimed that if Bush attempted to do so, Perkins "would be run over by ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] attorneys on their way to file suit in federal court." In fact, although at least one ACLU affiliate has opposed the yearly National Day of Prayer established by law in 1952, Bush has issued 17 separate proclamations for a total of 25 national days of prayer since he took office -- including one in which he led the nation in prayer after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Perkins is presumably aware of at least one of these proclamations, because he quoted from it in a September 11, 2005, press release.
Later on Hardball, Matthews agreed with Perkins's assertion that "there is a growing hostility toward Christianity" in America. Matthews stated, "[T]here is a campaign against religion in this country, and we hear it all the time." Matthews, Perkins, and Rev. Al Sharpton were discussing Vision America's "War on Christians and the Values Voters in 2006" conference, held March 27-28 in Washington, D.C. According to a press release, the purpose of the meeting was to "cover every aspect of the cultural war on Christians -- including attacks by Hollywood, the news media, gay activist and leftist groups like the ACLU and Anti-Defamation League."
In support of his assertion that "there is a growing hostility toward Christianity," Perkins stated: "[T]hink back when FDR [Franklin Delano Roosevelt] ... was president, and he led the nation in prayer from the White House. If President Bush were to do that today, before I could get back to my office, I would be run over by ACLU attorneys on their way to file suit in federal court." But neither Perkins nor Matthews acknowledged that since 1952, an annual National Day of Prayer has been mandated by federal law; a 1988 law determined that the National Day of Prayer would occur on the first Thursday in May of each year.
Since taking office January 20, 2001, Bush has proclaimed five annual National Days of Prayer (5/3/01, 5/2/02, 5/1/03, 5/6/04, and 5/5/05). Contrary to Perkins's suggestion that Bush is unable to lead the nation in prayer, the opposition of at least one state ACLU chapter -- that of Tennessee -- to the yearly National Day of Prayer has not prevented Bush from issuing these proclamations.
Bush has also proclaimed additional national days of prayer. In fact, one of his first official acts the day he took office was to proclaim January 21, 2001, a National Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving. Bush has also proclaimed Memorial Day a "day of prayer for permanent peace" each year since he took office (5/28/01, 5/27/02, 5/26/03, 5/31/04, and 5/30/05).
Bush has also proclaimed national days of prayer in recognition of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; he proclaimed September 14, 2001, "a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the Victims of the Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001," and, as the Associated Press noted on September 14, 2001, "led four former presidents and the nation in prayer" that day during a ceremony at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
From Bush's remarks at the ceremony:
BUSH: On this national day of prayer and remembrance, we ask almighty God to watch over our nation, and grant us patience and resolve in all that is to come. We pray that He will comfort and console those who now walk in sorrow. We thank Him for each life we now must mourn, and the promise of a life to come.
As we have been assured, neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, can separate us from God's love. May He bless the souls of the departed. May He comfort our own. And may He always guide our country.
God bless America.
Subsequently, Bush has proclaimed "National Days of Prayer and Remembrance" each September since 2001, setting aside a weekend -- Friday, Saturday, and Sunday -- each September for "memorial services, the ringing of bells, and evening candlelight remembrance vigils" (9/6/02-9/8/02, 9/5/03-9/7/03, 9/10/04-9/12/04, and 9/9/05-9/11/05).
Moreover, Bush proclaimed September 16, 2005, a "National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the Victims of Hurricane Katrina." Perkins was presumably aware of this proclamation when he made his comments, because he quoted it in a September 11, 2005, Family Research Council press release:
We are especially grateful to live in a land where we can still pray publicly, for now. We must be forever vigilant against those forces which seek to steal this blessed right from us. We are grateful for our President who has called us to this hour.
From the March 29 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: Do you believe, Tony, that you feel under attack? Or is this a clever marketing tool to get people --
MATTHEWS: You know, if you say circle the wagons to anybody, that's a great way to get them rallied, that's a way to get them juiced up, and they may vote more frequently. They may get out there and vote, where if they don't feel under attack, they're not going to vote. It's human nature.
PERKINS: Well, one writer criticizing this claim of Christians being under attack said there are no Christians today being thrown to the lions. Well, I agree, there's none being thrown to the lions today, but I'm not for allowing those cubs to grow up to become adult lions. And that's what we're talking about is addressing these issues.
And the Reverend Sharpton is incorrect. It is Christianity that is the target. The county of Los Angeles, the seal taken to a court case by the ACLU. They had to remove the cross from the top of the mission that is part of the emblem of the city. It is Christianity.
SHARPTON: But that is not because they're attacking the cross. They're saying that there are those citizens that don't believe in the cross. And I would have that position if there was a different religious symbol in a city that I lived in and paid taxes.
But I would like Tony to tell me how what Tom DeLay is facing has anything to do with his religion or any religion at all. I mean, I think it's an insult to Christians to act like because of his religion, he's been charged with what he's been charged with. It has nothing to do with his religion.
PERKINS: I don't think anybody ever said that, Al.
SHARPTON: I think everyone said that at this meeting this weekend that was cited when we came on. He was introduced as a man that was being persecuted because he stood up for Jesus. Tell me how Jesus and being accused of embezzling funds is the same thing. What chapter did you get that out of the New Testament?
PERKINS: What you find is that just in this case or whatever, there is a concern that those that identify with evangelical Christianity -- and Tom DeLay was very closely affiliated with that as the House majority leader. And there are those that say that was part of the motivation for going after him because he was an effective leader, in particular on issues as related to pro-life.
But on the issue of where Americans feel the country is moving, clearly there is a growing hostility toward Christianity. I mean, think back when FDR, Chris, was president, and he led the nation in prayer from the White House. If President Bush were to do that today, before I could get back to my office I would be run over by ACLU attorneys on their way to file suit in federal court.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know, that is a legitimate issue. I mean, how religious of a life do we want in our public square? And we are going to be debating this as long as anybody watching, Al, lives and probably for another hundred centuries after that because it is a legitimate debate, in a free society how much religion you have in the public square.
MATTHEWS: Last word, Reverend.
SHARPTON: I think that it clearly is a misuse of those of us that believe in something to act as though a man who has operated to the extreme right, who has tried to redistrict people of color out of office in Texas, is operating as some Christian missionary.
PERKINS: Red herring.
SHARPTON: I think that it is absolutely insulting to the intelligence of Christians. You're not going to meet anyone that believes in Christ more than me, but I believe in converting people, not forcing people to following my religion. We are living in what we want to be a democracy, not a theocracy, and it is dangerous to try and move in that direction.
PERKINS: And that's what we're saying. Let us live as we want to live.
SHARPTON: Well, then, you don't put your cross up on public emblems that don't have --
PERKINS: That's parts of our history.
MATTHEWS: Well, I don't agree with the stuff about Tom DeLay, but I do believe there is a campaign against religion in this country, and we hear it all the time. I think you're right, that's true, it's just true.
And Reverend Sharpton probably agrees with me, but not in the partisan part of it. Anyway, thank you, Reverend Sharpton; thank you, Tony Perkins.