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

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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

  • Linda Fellenbaum

    Andrew Johnson (Abraham Lincoln’s choice for Vice-President) said “I do believe in Almighty God! And I believe also in the Bible…Let us look forward to the time when we can take the flag of our country and nail it below the Cross, and there let it wave as it waved in the olden times, and let us gather around it and inscribed for our motto: “Liberty and Union, one and inseparable, now and forever,” and exclaim, Christ first, our country next!”

    President Abraham Lincoln issued a historic day of fasting and prayer on March 30, 1863 and he began by saying, “Whereas, the Senate of the United States devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for national prayer and humiliation: And whereas, it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history: that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord…”

    Prayer is woven into our past and should continue to be in our present and future. It is just as fitting for the President to endorse and promote this day now as it was back in 1863.

  • James Charles

    Do NPQ readers think that the president should be endorsing and promoting the National Day of Prayer? ABSOLUTELY.

  • Candace Lang

    It appalls me that people seem not to understand a simple concept like that of the separation of church and state. Declaring the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional would not deny anyone the right to pray, nor even discourage praying. Everyone in this country who so desires is free to pray about anything, whenever and wherever he or she wishes. “Free” is the operative word here. Are these people not capable of praying of their own volition? Must they be instructed to do so by the President of the United States? This does not speak well for them. At the same time, as an atheist, I resent being told by the President of my country that I should pray, and feel excluded from full citizenship by that implicit judgment on my own moral position. Finally, have the supporters of the National Day of Prayer not seen what happens in other countries where the government is in the business of interfering in people’s religious life? It should frighten them; it frightens me.

  • C.Moore

    No, the President should not be endorsing OR promoting a day of prayer.

  • Mike65

    No. Promoting prayer has no secular function and shouldn’t be one of the duties of our government. We have separation of church and state so that both church and state have the most freedom. Churches or other organizations are free to promote a day of prayer, but not our government.

  • John Coffey

    No, definitely not! Neither government nor President should promote National Day of Prayer, which should be only privately organized by churches for their respective congregations. NDOP might as well be called a “National Day of Coercion”, which I believe is more accurate description of that event. This would be unconstitutional for any government to promote.