Religious Activists Come to Washington to Celebrate the National Day of Prayer

May 4, 2011; Source: Christianity Today | Today is the National Day of Prayer. This year, unlike 2009 and 2010, the day comes with a proclamation from President Obama, signed on April 29, proclaiming the first Thursday of May this year as the day “to join [him] in asking God for guidance, mercy, and protection for our Nation.”

Perhaps the president was reluctant to do this in his first two years in office until the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out a challenge to the constitutionality of the his promotion of the National Day of Prayer, overturning a decision by a federal court judge in Wisconsin.

Do note that the Appeals Court never addressed the lower court’s conclusion that the 1952 law creating the National Day of Prayer and the president’s annual proclamation “violated the First Amendment’s prohibition on the establishment of a state-sponsored religion,” but simply ruled that the plaintiffs, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, lacked standing. But that gave the White House the green light to re-endorse the celebration.

This Christianity Today article is about two disabled women who will participate in the Washington event, one who will give the keynote address and read the 2011 National Prayer, and another who will sing at the event. It provides a National Day of Prayer link that goes not to the White House, but to the National Day of Prayer Task Force in Colorado Springs, Colo. The Task Force is apparently a tax exempt nonprofit, once housed in James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, but apparently since 2009 completely independent (except that the chair of the NDPTF is Dobson’s wife Shirley).

Although the formal National Day of Prayer is for all Americans, regardless of their faith or lack of one, the Task Force is clear that its efforts are based on Judeo-Christian beliefs. The theme of this year’s National Day is, according to the website, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” based on Psalm 91:2. (“I will say to the Lord, my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.”)

Secular or religious? Nonpartisan or a bit political? Note honorary board chairs Oliver North, Billy Graham, and Franklin Graham, and national advisory board members Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), Mike Pence (R-IN), Charles Colson, and James Dobson.

Noted agnostic president Abraham Lincoln once said, "The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession." President Thomas Jefferson, an atheist, said, "Civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents." Do NPQ readers think that the president should be endorsing and promoting the National Day of Prayer?—Rick Cohen