National Day of Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer, an annual observance inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation.  It was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress which requested the President to proclaim a day each year, other than a Sunday, as a National Day of Prayer, on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation in places of worship, in groups, and as individuals.  It was subsequently signed into law by President Harry S. Truman.  In 1988, the law was unanimously amended by both the House and the Senate and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on Thursday, May 5, 1988, designating the first Thursday of May as a day of national prayer.  Each year since its inception, the president has signed a National Day of Prayer proclamation, encouraging all Americans to pray on this day.

It was announced late last year that the theme for this year’s observance is “Pray for America – Unity,” based upon Ephesians 4:3, which challenges believers to mobilize unified public prayer for America, “Making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

In recognition of this year’s observance, during today’s bike ride I stopped by the American Center for Prayer and Revival, located in the basement of 117 2nd Street (MAP), right across the street from the U.S. Supreme Court Building, in northeast D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.  There they provided a prayer room, a red, white and blue “Pray” button for me to wear for the rest of the day, and a pre-packaged Eucharist pack with both wine and a communion wafer.

The American Center for Prayer and Revival is a center designed for day-and-night prayer in the National Capitol city, much like David’s Tent is for worship.  Through hosting teams of intercessors who maintain a 24/7 prayer vigil focused on asking God for a spiritual re-awakening and re-evangelization across our country and among our nation’s leaders.  Believing that only a powerful movement of repentant prayer and engagement in God’s Word will bring America back to spiritual life again, the center hopes to see a true religious revival in the United States, much like the great awakenings led by Jonathan Edwards in the 1750s and Charles Finney in the 1850s.

As I left and passed by the Supreme Court building, it made me wonder about the legality of the National Day of Prayer, and if it had yet been challenged in court.  Some people might say that it is wrong for the President to issue such a proclamation, contending that it is improper for the government to do so because it violates the separation of church and state and is, therefore, unconstitutional.

But while looking into the National Day of Prayer and learning more about it, I discovered that it has been challenged in court.  And the court ruled that it is perfectly legal.

In October of 2008, an organization named the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued to challenge the constitutionality of the designation of a National Day of Prayer. On October 3, 2008, the Wisconsin-based organization filed suit in a federal court in Madison, naming as defendants President George W. Bush; White House press secretary Dana Perino; Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle; and evangelist James Dobson’s wife, Shirley Dobson, in her capacity as chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force.  After initially being declared unconstitutional in April of 2010 by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned Crabb’s decision.

The panel ruled that the Freedom From Religion Foundation did not have standing to sue because the National Day of Prayer had not caused them harm and stated that “a feeling of alienation cannot suffice as injury.” The court further stated that “the President is free to make appeals to the public based on many kinds of grounds, including political and religious, and that such requests do not obligate citizens to comply and do not encroach on citizens’ rights.”  In its issued opinion, the Federal appeals court even cited President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, which referenced God seven times and prayer three times.

         
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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