WASHINGTON-The White House has announced it will mark Thursday's National Day of Prayer with a proclamation but not with a public ceremony involving the event's organizers, something that had become commonplace during George W. Bush's administration.
The decision has frustrated organizers and provided a clear sign that religious conservatives will not be granted the same White House access they enjoyed during the previous eight years.
Instead of a White House ceremony, the National Day of Prayer Task Force, chaired by Shirley Dobson, will hold public observances at the Cannon House Office Building on the U.S. Capitol grounds.
"We are disappointed in the lack of participation by the Obama administration," said Dobson. "At this time in our country's history, we would hope our president would recognize more fully the importance of prayer."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama would mark the day in private prayer: "Prayer is something that the president does every day. I think the president understands, in his own life and in his family's life, the role that prayer plays."
White House officials said they are reverting back to previous policy with the proclamation, noting that regular White House events for the Day of Prayer did not begin until President George W. Bush took office. Bush held East Room ceremonies that included prayers and speeches from primarily Christian and Jewish leaders.
President Harry Truman, at the urging of the Rev. Billy Graham, signed The National Day of Prayer into law in 1952. President Ronald Reagan amended the law in 1988 to state that the day would be held the first Thursday in May.
The National Day of Prayer tensions come as reporters continue to press White House officials about the Obamas' choice of a church to attend in Washington.
At his regular briefing on Tuesday, Gibbs said Obama, whose family attended Easter Sunday services at St. John's Episcopal Church near the White House, might soon select his regular Washington church.
As religious conservatives begin life on the outside looking in when it comes to White House politics, the religious left has begun to make its presence in the city felt.
Last week, left-leaning religious leaders descended on Washington to proclaim their seat at the political table. Organizers of the Mobilization to End Poverty dubbed their day on the Hill, attended by more than 800, as the first gathering of the religious left in the new Obama era (see "Anti-poverty activism").