Concerning presidents and privacy

After getting up very early yesterday for Easter services, I was a little groggy on my Metro ride into work today. As I flipped through my Washington Post, I found this headline in the Metro Section:

For Easter, Obamas Pick A Safe Bet

That’s right, the Obama family went to St. John’s Episcopal Church (located across the street from the White House) for services yesterday. It’s a sad reflection on American society that even a president’s choice of a church should be calculated in terms of political risk, but President Obama made his faith an issue during the campaign, a tactic we at the Interfaith Alliance warned against. So I don’t disparage the Washington Post for writing this story. For better or worse, it has some news value.

Where I do take issue with the Washington Post was covering one detail of the Obama’s visit to St. John’s:

All four family members took communion at the Episcopal church yesterday.

I have a number of problems with this revelation.

  1. It is irrelevant information for the public because it has no bearing over the president’s ability to do his job.
  2. It makes the Washington Post look more like People Magazine when they report on what food Angelina Jolie orders at a L.A. restaurant.
  3. It is a violation of privacy for the Obama family.

Look I know presidents and their families have to sacrifice some privacy in order to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It comes with the territory. But the decision to take communion is a very personal choice. I know first-hand: I have helped serve communion at a local church for the past five years. Many of the people I served were taking communion for the very first time. In the Christian tradition, this is one the most important sacraments that Christians partake in to feel more connected with God. So I asked myself how I would feel if my communion habits were printed in the Washington Post. I would be outraged.

Look, I realize that communion has been used as a political weapon in the past. I understand why the Washington Post printed that detail – the president’s religion is a political issue. I am merely arguing that the private religious expression of the president and his family ought not to be a political issue. If the Post had not printed the communion choices made by the First Family, they still would be able to cover the story fully, but still leave the Obamas a modicum of privacy. That would have been a better outcome.