Obama and the Easter kerfuffle

Last week I complained about the lack of coverage surrounding President Barack Obama's confession of Christian faith at a pre-Easter Easter breakfast he hosted at the White House. I wrote, "remember how much the media covered those polls showing that huge chunks of people in all parties were confused about Obama’s religion? Isn’t that at least partly an indictment of how the media cover Obama’s own words about his faith? Even when he speaks very clearly about his own religious views, the news is covered but not highlighted, pushed to the margins or sent out on the wire without fanfare." And not a week later we have the latest flurry of activity surrounding how President Obama handled Easter. Now, most of these discussions take place on opinion sites and opinion shows. So, for example, we have FOX News' Bill O'Reilly leading a panel discussion about racial statements made by the pastor of the church Obama visited for Easter Sunday. (Don't worry, MSNBC has equivalently ridiculous clips about religion from a progressive perspective.)

But as the embedded video shows, some folks are asking why President Obama didn't release a statement about Easter, particularly considering the statements that he has released marking other holy days.

And now you see why I'm kind of peeved that last week's prayer breakfast comments didn't receive more coverage, right?

Anyway, Fox News seems to be where the story originated. Here's how that story begins:

President Obama failed to release a statement or a proclamation recognizing the national observance of Easter Sunday, Christianity's most sacred holiday.

By comparison, the White House has released statements recognizing the observance of major Muslim holidays and released statements in 2010 on Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr, Hajj, and Eid-ul-Adha.

A Salt Lake Tribune religion reporter writes that "previous presidents also did not issue Easter proclamations." That's undoubtedly true. But it's also true that previous presidents have issued Easter statements. The Fox News report specifically quotes from President George W. Bush's Easter greetings. For that matter, the Fox News story quotes from President Obama's previous Easter greetings. The 2010 one was a bit interfaith, apparently.

Over at the Dallas Morning News we're given an absolutely blistering attack on Fox News from a religion reporter, full of emotion. Here's the dramatic ending:

As for Obama, he's issued hundreds of presidential proclamations, recognizing everything from Leif Erikson Day to National Forest Products Week to National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

But unless I missed it on the list, he has never issued a proclamation for a Muslim holiday. Not ever. Not one.

Not ever? Not one? Always use the Google before making statements like this. For, as Fox News noted, just this past year the White House has released statements on Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr, Hajj and Eid-ul-Adha. And while the White House search function is rather rotten, the same goes for previous years. And, again, as Fox News reported, Obama put out statements regarding Easter in previous years and mentioned it in passing in this week's radio address.

Speaking as someone not just annoyed by civil religion but also the unfair scrutiny applied to the faith lives of presidents, I understand the desire to defend the president. But the Fox News report mentioned the prayer breakfast Obama hosted last week where he "spoke openly about the Christian faith." And early on it mentioned that the Obamas went to services on Easter Sunday.

What opinion shows and web sites did with it may be another thing. But I rather prefer the approach Religion News Service has taken with the broader issue, where one reporter in particular has shown how the White House has changed how it talks about religion in light of public opinion polls showing uncertainty among many Americans about the president's Christian faith.

That's an interesting and complex story and one that requires knowledge and nuance to cover. Few reporters seem up to the task.

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