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Chain email
stated on January 30, 2012 in a chain email:
"This year President Obama canceled the 21st annual National Day of Prayer ceremony at the White House under the ruse of ‘not wanting to offend anyone.' BUT … on September 25, 2009 from 4 AM until 7 PM, a National Day of Prayer FOR THE MUSLIM RELIGION was HELD on Capitol Hill, Beside the White House."  
true barely-true
By Caryn Shinske February 9, 2012

Email claim that Obama canceled National Day of Prayer ceremony contains numerous errors

The people behind a chain email circulating in New Jersey about President Barack Obama and the National Day of Prayer might want to think about the sin of omission.

That’s omission, as in omitting facts.

The email, received Jan. 30 by PolitiFact New Jersey, claimed in 2010 that Obama canceled a National Day of Prayer ceremony at the White House in 2009, but later that year a National Day of Prayer for Muslims was permitted on Capitol Hill, beside the White House.

The email reads, in part:

"This year President Obama canceled the 21st annual National Day of Prayer ceremony at the White House under the ruse of ‘not wanting to offend anyone,’" the email reads. "BUT … on September 25, 2009 from 4 AM until 7 PM, a National Day of Prayer FOR THE MUSLIM RELIGION was HELD on Capitol Hill, Beside the White House."

Most of the claims in the email don’t have a prayer of being accurate, PolitiFact New Jersey found.

There are several statements to address. Let’s start with the origins of the National Day of Prayer, which is an annual observance for people of all faiths.

President Harry Truman established the day as a national event in 1952. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a resolution designating the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer. Every president since – including Obama – has issued a proclamation to recognize the day.

Obama, however, has not held the National Day of Prayer ceremony at the White House that President George W. Bush had for eight years. Presidents George H.W. Bush held one, in 1989, and Reagan also held one, in 1982. President Bill Clinton had none. So, there have not been 21 annual National Day of Prayer ceremonies, as the email claims.

In fact-checking this email, we found at least 30 published reports in a basic Google search debunking various claims in it. While those reports confirm that Obama decided against the public White House ceremony, none state exactly why. In a May 7, 2009 CNN  video, a representative with the Christian Broadcast Network speculated the cancelation might stem from publicity about controversial comments once made by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s longtime pastor in Chicago. Other articles imply that a statement in Obama’s inaugural speech about inclusivity of all religions and nonreligions in the United States might have been a factor.

At the time, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said of Obama’s plans on the National Day of Prayer, "Privately, he’ll pray as he does every day."

The same is expected this year.

"As he has done each of the last three years, President Obama will continue to recognize the National Day of Prayer," White House spokesman Brandon Lepow said in an email.

Next, let’s review the claim about "a National Day of Prayer FOR THE MUSLIM RELIGION" being held "on Capitol Hill, Beside the White House."

The Jummah Prayer on Capitol Hill event was a one-time only activity coordinated by the Dar-ul-Islam mosque in Elizabeth to "clear up myths about Muslims," said Imam Ali Jaaber, who attended the Sept. 25, 2009 event. It was never billed as a National Day Of Prayer.

Hassen Abdellah, board president at Dar-ul-Islam, organized the event in response to positive remarks by Obama in his inaugural speech and during another speech five months later in Egypt about welcoming and acknowledging the presence of Muslims in the United States, Jaaber said.

Also, Capitol Hill is approximately one mile from the White House – not beside it. And, Muslim is not a religion. A person who follows the religion Islam is a Muslim.

Our ruling

A chain email circulating in New Jersey that Obama canceled the 21st annual National Day of Prayer ceremony in 2009 but a National Day of Prayer for Muslims was held later that year on Capitol Hill is full of inaccuracies. While it’s true that Obama did not hold a public ceremony at the White House that President George W. Bush did, it’s untrue that the ceremony would have been the 21st annual event. But wait – there’s more: the email’s author incorrectly located Capitol Hill as "beside" the White House and identified Muslim as a religion. Despite the numerous errors in the email, it does contain an element of truth -- and that fits the Truth-O-Meter’s definition for Mostly False.

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To comment on this story, go to NJ.com.

Our Sources

Chain email  that President Barack Obama canceled the National Day of Prayer, received Jan. 30, 2012

Snopes.com, "President Obama canceled the National Day of Prayer," Dec. 15, 2011, accessed Jan. 30 and Feb. 1, 2012

CBSNews.com, "National Day Of Prayer Deemed Unconstitutional but Obama Will Recognize it Anyway," April 16, 2010, accessed Jan. 30 and Feb. 1, 2012

Phone interview with Brandon Lepow, White House spokesman, Jan. 30, 2012

CNN Politics, "Obama tones down National Day of Prayer observance," May 6, 2009, accessed Jan. 30, 2012

IslamReligion.com, accessed Jan. 31, 2012

The Star-Ledger, "Elizabeth mosque organizes national prayer gathering for Muslims in Washington, D.C.," Sept. 20, 2009, accessed Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, 2012

The Catholic Encyclopedia website, accessed Jan. 31, 2012

Google maps for Washington, DC, accessed Feb. 1, 2012

About.com Urban Legends column, "FALSE: National Day of Prayer Canceled by Obama," April 15, 2010, accessed Feb. 1, 2012

Phone interview with Dar-ul-Islam Imam Ali Jaaber, Feb. 1, 2012

IslamReligion.com, "The Rights of Non-Muslims in Islam (part 1 of 13): An Islamic Basis," Dr. Saleh al-Aayed, July 3, 2006, accessed Feb. 2, 2012

TheAmericanMuslim.org, "Federally Mandated National Day of Prayer Unconstitutional," June 2009, updated May 26, 2010, accessed Feb. 3, 2012

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More by Caryn Shinske

Email claim that Obama canceled National Day of Prayer ceremony contains numerous errors

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