Most public meetings in the United States, large and small, open with a prayer, invocation, or moment of silence. The practice remains common, despite concerns about the separation of church and state, because Americans enjoy it, and those who do not participate generally understand it is not a form of religious coercion.
Yet the White House press briefing, perhaps the most widely watched public meeting in the world, does not open in the same fashion.
The Trump administration has a unique opportunity to change that.
In the first press briefing of the new year, as the administration confronts a new, divided Congress, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders could step to the podium and offer a simple, ecumenical prayer — something like the following:
O Lord, our God — we pray: Bless the President and First Lady of the United States; bless the men and women of the armed forces; bless the members of the press corps and their families. Guide our deliberations today in a spirit of unity, that we may, together, inform the citizens of this Republic. We thank you for the life You give us every day, and for the liberty You have bestowed upon each of us. We will now observe a moment of reflection. Amen.
That prayer — call it the “Prayer of the Press Secretary” — could then become a permanent fixture in the routine of White House press conferences.
The results would be electrifying. The evangelical Christian community would welcome the prayer with delight, as the latest example of President Donald Trump fulfilling his commitment to religious voters, and his vision on the campaign trail: “Imagine what our country could accomplish if we started working together as one people under one god saluting one flag.” Other religious communities that favor public prayer in public would also be pleased.
More liberal religious communities, concerned that public expressions of faith could lead to religious coercion, would likely object. But the obvious rejoinder would be that Congress itself — the same Congress that will welcome Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as Speaker of the House — begins with an invocation, which was upheld in court just last year, even though the First Amendment refers specifically to Congress in barring the establishment of religion.
As in Congress, the White House could invite religious leaders from different backgrounds to offer short invocations at the briefing, ensuring that a variety of faiths would be represented, and emphasizing participation, not coercion.
Crucially, the Prayer of the Press Secretary would have an immediate, and positive, effect on the relationship between the administration and the media.
Some of the journalists in the room would, no doubt, be uncomfortable, at least at first. But the prayer would create a new tone in the room — one of humility, and of unity. It would remind the media, the White House staff, and the public, that despite the back-and-forth, we are all on the same side.
As such, the positive impact of the prayer would not remain confined to the briefing room, but would radiate to the nation as a whole.
The example of the bitterly opposed White House and the press corps uniting in prayer would encourage Americans to be more inclined to respect one another in spite of our disagreements. In a divided time, the prayer could be the perfect remedy for the nation’s angst.
Finally, once established, the “Prayer of the Press Secretary” is certain to be continued from administration to administration: who would wish to be the president who canceled it?
The country will debate Trump for decades to come, but that prayer would be a lasting legacy.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.