A Washington ethics watchdog is asking President Obama and members of Congress not to attend a National Prayer Breakfast this week, saying the event is being organized by a "shadowy" Christian conservative group for the purposes of recruiting new members.
The event, to take place Thursday morning, is being organized by the Fellowship Foundation, also known as "the Family," a group that has been linked to a proposed Ugandan anti-gay law that would see HIV-positive men face the death penalty.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington says the meeting is being organized to look falsely like a government-sponsored event.
"The breakfast, designed to appear as if government-sanctioned, actually serves as a meeting and recruiting event for the shadowy Fellowship Foundation," says a statement from CREW. "The Fellowship ... is run by Doug Coe, a spiritual advisor to past government officials who uses the organization to push his unorthodox brand of Christianity within government circles."
Adele M. Stan at AlterNet reports that President Obama is scheduled to appear at this year's prayer breakfast. The White House has not yet responded to CREW's request, reports Arthur Delaney at the Huffington Post.
The Fellowship Foundation's image suffered last year when no less than three Republican lawmakers were linked to its C Street House, a boarding house and meeting place for Christian conservative lawmakers that is run by Youth With A Mission, a group affiliated with the Fellowship.
Among the lawmakers with links to the C Street House are Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), who is alleged to have had an affair with an aide of his; South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who last year admitted to absconding from the state to meet his Argentinian mistress; and former House Rep. Chip Pickering (R-MS), whose ex-wife has alleged infidelity on his part.
But perhaps the largest hit to the group's reputation came last fall, when some of its members were linked to a proposed law in Uganda that would see HIV-positive homosexuals sentenced to death. News reports indicate that the Ugandan authors and principal backers of that law are members of the Fellowship.
And it was reportedly at a Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast in 2008 that the law was first proposed. News reports suggest Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), a member of the Fellowship, may have been present at that meeting.
Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington states:
The organization operates under an intense veil of secrecy, staying largely out of the public eye and hiding its donors’ identities. The Fellowship has used its government clout to facilitate backdoor meetings between U.S. and foreign officials, improperly claimed tax exempt status for the C Street House, and has persuaded members of Congress, including Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) to conduct Fellowship-sanctioned evangelizing while traveling at taxpayer expense.
The National Prayer Breakfast has been an annual event in Washington since 1953, but it rose to new prominence during the administration of George W. Bush, who built a political identity around his Christian conservatism.
Read the full text of CREW's press release here.