Atheist and secularist groups are applauding President Biden’s actions but expressing concern about his speeches, which often use biblical language alluding to his Catholic faith.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation, a group representing atheists, agnostics and skeptics, released a statement Feb. 4 criticizing Biden for addressing the National Prayer Breakfast, an event that dates back to the 1950s.
“In a misbegotten attempt at bipartisanship, President Biden has continued the lamentable presidential tradition of legitimizing the sectarian annual National Prayer Breakfast,” the foundation said in a statement.
Biden received 65 percent of the vote from non-religious Americans in 2020, according to exit polls.
Sarah Levin, program director for Secular Democrats of America, told Religion News Service that Biden needs to include secular voices when an event must include prayers and faith elements: “I worry that this administration’s idea of interfaith outreach may tend to exclude nonbelievers.”
Biden has referenced faith often in recent weeks.
During his inauguration speech, Biden quoted fifth-century Christian theologian Augustine. He also cited Scripture, specifically Psalm 30:5.
“As the Bible says, ‘Weeping may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning,’” Biden said Jan. 20. “We will get through this together.”
He cited Psalm 30:5 again during a National Prayer Breakfast speech that emphasized the need for faith in America.
“For so many in our nation, this is a dark, dark time,” Biden said. “So where do we turn? Faith. Kierkegaard wrote, ‘Faith sees best in the dark.’ I believe that to be true. For me, in the darkest moments, faith provides hope and solace. [It] provides clarity and purpose as well. It shows the way forward, as one nation, in a common purpose to respect one another, to care for one another, to leave no one behind.”
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, said “Biden should have chosen to skip the event.”
“Too bad they chose to endorse a constitutionally suspect occasion organized by a shady organization,” Gaylor said.
Gaylor told Religion News Service that her members also were troubled by an event the day before the inauguration at which the Catholic archbishop of Washington spoke and Amazing Grace was sung. Gaylor said her inbox was “flooded with complaints”
“For our membership, for nonreligious and non-Christian individuals, it was utterly spoiled,” she said.
Still, Gaylor, Levin and other leaders in their community are pleased with the Biden administration’s actions thus far in his term.
“It’s true that some in the nonreligious community were upset that the inauguration failed to acknowledge them, but actions are so much more important than words,” Rachel Laser, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told Religion News Service. “Vice President [Mike] Pence, for example, would acknowledge the right to believe or not believe. But his administration enacted regulation after regulation to license discrimination against the non-religious.”
President Biden Quotes Bible as He Urges Unity: 'We Must End This Uncivil War'
Biden, at National Prayer Breakfast, Urges Americans to Turn to Faith: It 'Provides Hope and Solace'
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.