Dozens of Heads Were Bowed

Shirley Dobson, head of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, prays with husband James and the president.
Shirley Dobson, head of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, prays with husband James and the president. (By Ron Edmonds -- Associated Press)
By Dana Milbank
Friday, May 4, 2007

Let us pray.

Let us pray that, on next year's National Day of Prayer, there is better attendance at the "Bible Reading Marathon" on the West Front of the Capitol.

Organizers put out 600 folding chairs on the lawn -- the spot where presidents are inaugurated -- and set up a huge stage with powerful amplifiers. But at 9:30 a.m. yesterday, not one of the 600 seats was occupied. By 11 a.m., as a woman read a passage from Revelations, attendance had grown -- to four people. Finally, at 1 p.m., 37 of the 600 seats were occupied, though many of those people were tourists eating lunch.

Where was everybody?

"This isn't that kind of event," explained Jeff Gannon, spokesman for the host, the International Bible Reading Association. Gannon, actually a pseudonym for James Guckert, had earned fame in 2005 representing a conservative Web site at White House briefings until it was revealed that he posted nude pictures of himself on the Web to offer his services as a $200-an-hour gay escort.

Let us pray for the power to understand how Gannon made his way from to the International Bible Reading Association.

* * *

While we are at it, let us pray for the atheists, because -- Lord knows -- they need it. To protest the National Day of Prayer, American Atheists held a counterdemonstration across from the White House yesterday, called the National Day of Reason. Rick Wingrove, co-founder of a group called Beltway Atheists, stood on a coffee table in Lafayette Park and used a bullhorn to get his message out.

The atheists directed particular irreverence at President Bush. "This is the beginning of a theocratic dictatorship, or maybe a better name is a holy decidership," Wingrove announced. "You might as well be reading the charter documents for the freaking Taliban."

But those participating in the National Day of Prayer did not find the National Day of Reason to be much of a threat. Wingrove attracted a crowd of only five fellow atheists, and they reported no confrontations with believers. Just "lots of tourists and schoolkids," said one man handing out Beltway Atheists literature.

* * *

Let us pray, as well, for the beleaguered practitioners of Christian street theater, for they deserve greater press coverage.

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