National Prayer Breakfast Splinters

Lawmakers say they were cut out of decision-making
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 29, 2023 1:40 PM CST
Congress to Run Prayer Breakfast
President Biden speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast in February 2022.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

The National Prayer Breakfast, one of the most visible and long-standing events that brings religion and politics together in Washington, is splitting from the private religious group that had overseen it for decades, due to concerns the gathering had become too divisive. The organizer and host for this year's breakfast, scheduled for Thursday, will be the National Prayer Breakfast Foundation, headed by former Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor. Sen. Chris Coons, a regular participant and chairman of the Senate ethics committee, said the move was prompted in part by concerns in recent years that members of Congress did not know important details about the larger multiday gathering, the AP reports.

Coons, a Democrat, said that in the past, he and Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, the committee's vice chairman, had questions about who was invited and how money was being raised. The annual event "went on several days, had thousands of people attending, and a very large and somewhat complex organization," Coons said in an interview. "Some questions had been raised about our ability as members of Congress to say that we knew exactly how it was being organized, who was being invited, how it was being funded. Many of us who'd been in leadership roles really couldn't answer those questions." That led to lawmakers deciding to take over organizing for the prayer breakfast itself.

Pryor, president of the new foundation, said the COVID-19 shutdown gave members a chance to reset the breakfast and return it to its origins—a change he said had been discussed for years. "The whole reason the House and Senate wanted to do this was to return it to its roots, when House members and Senate members can come together and pray for the president, pray for his family and administration, pray for our government, the world," Pryor said. Members of Congress, the president, vice president are among those invited Thursday to the event at the visitors center at the Capitol. Pryor said 200 to 300 guests are expected. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first president to attend, in February 1953, and every president since has spoken at the gathering.

(Read more National Prayer Breakfast stories.)

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