There’s a new slogan making its way onto car bumpers and across the Internet. It reads simply: “Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8”
A nice sentiment?
The psalm reads, “Let his days be few; and let another take his office.”
Presidential criticism through witty slogans is nothing new. Bumper stickers, t-shirts, and hats with “1/20/09” commemorated President Bush’s last day in office.
But the verse immediately following the psalm referenced is a bit more ominous: “Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.”
The slogan comes at a time of heightened concern about antigovernment anger. Earlier this year, the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod, said that Tea Parties could lead to something unhealthy. In September, authorities shut down a poll on Facebook asking if President Obama should be killed.
Still, that doesn’t push the Psalms citation into the realm of hate speech, says Chris Hansen, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The use of Psalm 109:8 is ambiguous as to whether its users are calling for the President to serve “only one term, or less than one term,” he says.
Deborah Lauter, director of civil rights at the Anti-Defamation League agrees that the bumper sticker falls within acceptable political discourse.
For it to be considered hate speech, it “would advocate actual violence or cite scripture that was more clear in its message.”
But that doesn’t mean that it’s completely innocent.
“Are we concerned about real hostility towards [President Obama]? Absolutely,” says Ms. Lauter. “Is this a part of that movement? It may be, but in terms of this message itself, we would not criticize it.”
“The problem is you don’t know if people who are donning that message in a shirt or on a bumper sticker are fully aware of the quote or what follows. Obviously that message makes the ambiguity disappear. If they’re just referring to him being out of office, that’s one thing. If they’re referring to him being dead, that’s so offensive. It’s protected speech, but it’s clearly offensive.”
For many, the slogan is just a humorous way express disapproval for President Obama. It’s been tweeted and retweeted by Obama critics with messages like “too funny” and “an excellent prayer for America.”
Twitter user Cheri Douglas felt compelled to share the psalm with others. Reached by phone, she said she found it on website while searching for Bible passages relating to leadership – a topic on which she writes, speaks, and consults for a living.
Ms. Douglas was unaware of the verses that followed the ones she referenced and doesn’t think that those who shared the psalm wish the President harm.
“I don’t believe there’s Christians who wish him ill will,” she says.
But Douglas does say she’s unhappy with the president and used the psalm to convey that she’d like him to serve only one term.