Viral Spiral

On Monday I received the following e-mail from a friend requesting that I pass it along to at least three others:

“In 1952 President Truman established one day a year as aNational Day of Prayer.

In 1988, President Reagan designated the first Thursday in May of each year as the National Day of Prayer.

“In June 2007, (then) Presidential candidate Barack Obama declared that the USA ‘was no longer a Christian nation.’ This year President Obama canceled the 21st annual National Day of Prayer ceremony at the White House under the rouse of ‘not wanting to offend anyone.’

“On September 25, 2009 from 4 am until 7pm, a National Day of Prayer for the Muslim religion was held on Capitol Hill, beside the White House. There were over 50,000 Muslims that day in DC.

“I guess it doesn’t matter if ‘Christians’ are offended by this event – we obviously don’t count as ‘anyone’ anymore. The direction this country is headed should strike fear in the heart of every Christian. Especially knowing that the Muslim religion believes that if Christians cannot be converted they should be annihilated

“This is not a rumor – Go to the website to confirm this info:
(http://www.islamoncapitolhill.com/) Pay particular attention to the very bottom of the page: ‘OUR TIME HAS COME.’

“The words of 2 Chronicles 7:1- ‘If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.’

“We must pray for our nation, our communities, our families, and especially our children. They are the ones that are going to suffer the most if we don’t PRAY! May God have mercy… IN GOD WE TRUST.

“Please pass this on, maybe someone, somehow can figure out a way to put America back on the map as it was when we were growing up, a safe place to live and by the Ten Commandments and Pledge of Allegiance, etc!”

Over the years, I have received dozens of “chain e-mails” regarding a variety of issues and individuals. (Perhaps the most prolific was the e-mail “proving” that the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 was not really a plane, but a missile.)

I have often spoken of two websites that I regularly consult –Politifact.com and FactCheck.org – to test the veracity of statements made by politicians, pundits, Facebook posts, Tweets as well as chain e-mails.

Unsolicited chain e-mails (e-mails that ask recipients to read and pass-along to others) are notoriously unreliable. Typically, their purpose is to play into the anxiety, fear and confirmation bias of citizens who, rather than take the time to check the information, read and pass it along to others. According to the recipient list, 19 others were sent the same e-mail that I received.

About.com is a website run by the New York Times that “…helps people to solve the large and small needs of everyday life.” The site has a page entitled, Urban Legends. A simple search on the above e-mail yielded the following sourced information:

ANALYSIS: The above text comprises a mixture of fact, fiction, and fearmongering; mostly the latter. Let’s consider the claims one at a time:

CLAIM: In 1952, President Truman established one day a year as a “National Day of Prayer.”

STATUSTRUE. A bill proclaiming a National Day of Prayerwas passed unanimously by Congress and Harry Truman signed it into law in April 1952. The law left it up to the President to select a date.
Source: History of the National Day of Prayer, ReligiousTolerance.org, 17 April 2007.

CLAIM: In 1988, President Reagan designated the first Thursday in May of each year as the National Day of Prayer.

STATUSTRUE. President Ronald Reagan signed bipartisan legislation making the first Thursday in May the annual National Day of Prayer in May 1988.
Source: History of the National Day of Prayer, ReligiousTolerance.org, 17 April 2007.

CLAIM: In June 2007, (then) Presidential candidate Barack Obama declared that the U.S.A. is no longer a Christian nation.

STATUSFALSE. This oft-repeated rumor is based on a misquote. One sentence in the text of Barack Obama’s prepared remarks for a keynote address at the Christian Sojourners “Call to Renewal” conference on June 28, 2006 (not 2007) read as follows (emphasis added):

“Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.
It’s clear from the context that Obama was referring to the religious demographics of the country, not — contrary to what some people seem to believe — proclaiming an abandonment of Christian values.”

The statement has lent itself to frequent misquotation because Obama misspoke when he delivered the speech, saying (emphasis added):

Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation —at least, not just; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.
Sources: ‘Call to Renewal’ Keynote Address, 28 June 2006 (as Written) BarackObama.com.
‘Call to Renewal’ Keynote Address, 28 June 2006 (as Delivered). YouTube.com.

CLAIM: President Obama canceled the 21st annual National Day of Prayer ceremony at the White House under the ruse of “not wanting to offend anyone.”

STATUSMIXED. Obama didn’t cancel the National Day of Prayer. While it’s true that he broke with a precedent established during the Bush administration by not holding a White House ceremony on the occasion, Obama issued the traditional National Day of Prayer proclamation in 2009 (and again in 2010, 2011, and 2012), and the annual event was observed all across the country just as it has been for many years.

Neither the President, his press secretary, nor any other member of the Obama administration characterized the decision to forgo a White House ceremony as an attempt “not to offend anyone.”
Sources: Text of Obama’s National Day of PrayerProclamation, Beliefnet.com, 7 May 2009.
Obama Ends Bush-Era National Prayer Day Service at White House, LA Times blog, 7 May 2009.
Obama Tones Down National Day of Prayer Observance. CNN.com, 6 May 2009.

CLAIM: On September 25, 2009 from 4 am until 7 pm, aNational Day of Prayer for the Muslim religion was held on Capitol Hill.

STATUSMOSTLY TRUE. It wasn’t sponsored, promoted, or attended by President Obama or the U.S. government, however, nor was it billed as a “National Day of Prayer.” Conceived and sponsored by the leaders of a Washington, DC mosque who described it as a “day of Islamic unity,” the all-day event did feature Muslim prayers and readings from the Qur’an, and was officially entitled “Islam on Capitol Hill.”
Sources: Islam on Capitol Hill. Official Website (2009).
Elizabeth Mosque Organizes National Prayer Gathering for Muslims in Washington, D.C. Newark Star-Ledger, 31 August 2009.
Muslims to Pray for ‘Soul of America’ at U.S. Capitol Event Washington Post, 5 September 2009.

CLAIM: The direction this country is headed should strike fear in the heart of every Christian. Especially knowing that the Muslim religion believes that if Christians cannot be converted they should be annihilated.

STATUSFALSE. It is not a tenet of the Islamic faith that Christians must either be converted or annihilated.
Sources: Christians in the Qur’an. About.com: Islam.
Do Verses of the Qur’an Condone ‘Killing the Infidel’? About.com: Islam.
What Is Jihad? About.com: Islam.

According to Politifact.com (as of June 26), of 125 chain e-mails checked, 4 percent were rate True; 4 percent, Mostly True; 6 percent, Half-True; 8 percent, Mostly False; 26 percent,False; and 52 percent were rated Pants-on-Fire!

FactCheck.org lists internet rumors under Viral Spiral.

No matter which issue or the individual you support, it’s important to check the facts before you decide to pass it on.

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