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American Prayer Hour created as alternative to National Prayer Breakfast

The first American Prayer Hour, an event created by gay-rights advocates and church leaders, will be held Thursday in communities across the U.S. as a protest to the annual National Prayer Breakfast.

The breakfast, which has been attended by most presidents since Eisenhower, is also scheduled for Thursday, in Washington, D.C.

Prayer hour events will be also be held in Washington, D.C., as well as in Dallas, Chicago and Berkeley. None are planned in San Diego.

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, is among the organizers of the prayer hour. Others include Bishop Carlton Pearson, senior interim minister at Christ Universal Temple in Chicago; and The Rev. Elder Darlene Garner, member of the board of elders for Metropolitan Community Church.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is co-hosting the event.

Organizers said the prayer hour will be inclusive, unlike the National Prayer Breakfast. They cited the breakfast group’s ties to a "secretive fundamentalist organization" called The Fellowship Foundation, also known as The Family.

The Family hosts the National Prayer Breakfast.

The Family has been linked to politicians in Uganda who have sponsored Uganda’s controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill, including David Bahati, who sponsored the bill.

"It is time that they take responsibility for lighting fires that now they cannot control," said Robinson, the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire who prayed at President Obama's inaugural ceremonies and advised Obama on gay rights during the 2008 campaign.

Uganda's bill has drawn criticism worldwide, including among many Christian groups in the U.S. The proposed legislation would bolster the criminalization of homosexuality by introducing the death penalty for people are labeled serial offenders, are suspected of "aggravated homosexuality" and are HIV-positive, or who engage in sexual acts with those younger than 18.

The bill also targets people who do not report a homosexual within 24 hours of knowledge. Parents, teachers, landlords, media members, health care workers and religious leaders who counsel or work with HIV/AIDS infected persons would also be at risk of imprisonment.

Bahati was scheduled to attend the National Prayer Breakfast, but reportedly has been disinvited.

The Advocate Magazine reported that breakfast spokesman Richard Swett, a former U.S. ambassador to Denmark, has tried to distance The Family from Bahati, although other observers dispute that has occurred.

“The National Prayer Breakfast is an organization that builds bridges of understanding between all peoples, religions and beliefs and has never advocated the sentiments expressed in Mr. Bahati’s legislation,” Swett said.

Truth Wins Out, a nonprofit organization that defends the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community against anti-gay misinformation campaigns, called Swett’s statement inaccurate and dishonest.

“The Family, which hosts the National Prayer Breakfast, is intimately tied and directly connected to the politicians who sponsored Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality bill,” said Wayne Besen, Truth Wins Out’s executive director. “As a result of negative publicity, The Family is covering its rear-end and scurrying away as fast as it can. However, it is completely outrageous, totally insincere and remarkably deceitful for The Family to deny the crucial role it played in the introduction of the ‘Kill the Gays’ legislation.”

In November, Terry Gross, host of National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” show, interviewed Jeff Sharlet, the author of “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.” During the interview, Sharlet identified Uganda’s dictator, President Yoweri Museveni, as one of The Family’s “key men” in Africa. He also linked Bahati directly to The Family.

“David Bahati, the man behind this legislation, is really deeply, deeply involved in The Family’s work in Uganda, that the ethics minister of Uganda, Museveni’s kind of right-hand man, a guy named Nsaba Buturo, is also helping to organize The Family’s National Prayer Breakfast,” Sharlet told listeners of the “Fresh Air” show.

“And here’s a guy who has been the main force for this Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda’s executive office and has been very vocal about what he’s doing, in a rather extreme and hateful way. But these guys are not so much under the influence of The Family. They are, in Uganda, The Family.”

The Family’s ties to the breakast has generated more concerns by the GLBT community.

“Along with eggs and bacon, The Family is serving up extremism behind the scenes at the National Prayer Breakfast,” said Besen, of Truth Wins Out. “This is not a benign organization and they have displayed atrocious judgment in selecting ‘key men’ across the globe. The people they have held up as ‘moral’ have turned out to be monsters and it is time they apologize for the damage they have inflicted on innocent people.”