I wrote last year about the National Day of Prayer and how it had been hijacked by a group of conservative Christians related to James Dobson’s Focus on the Family.
Each year, the National Day of Prayer is celebrated on the first Thursday in May; this year it will be on May 7th. In the orignal proclamation in 1952, President Harry S. Truman declared that succeeding presidents would proclaim the Day of Prayer on a date of their choosing. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan set the date permanently for the first Thursday in May.
In theory (and evident under the First Amendment separation of church and state), the National Day of Prayer should be a day which includes all religious traditions in our diverse nation, including those who might choose not to pray. In fact, the official statement of the National Day of Prayer Task force acknowledges this fact in their statement:
People with other theological and philosophical views are, of course, free to organize and participate in activities that are consistent with their own beliefs. This diversity is what Congress intended when it designated the Day of Prayer, not that every faith and creed would be homogenized, but that all who sought to pray for this nation would be encouraged to do so in any way deemed appropriate.
Still, the NDPTF is very clear about what its “Official” stance is:
The National Day of Prayer Task Force was a creation of the National Prayer Committee for the expressed purpose of organizing and promoting prayer observances conforming to a Judeo-Christian system of values. It is that broad invitation to the American people that led, in our case, to the creation of the Task Force and the Judeo-Christian principles on which it is based.
A close reading of the site reveals that their interpretation of “Judaeo-Christian” is rather more “Christian” than “Judaeo,” and those who wish to volunteer for the National Day of Prayer are required to fill out a form “to determine your personal and spiritual qualifications for this service.” The form includes a requirement to affirm a specific statement of faith:
I believe that the Holy Bible is the inerrant Word of The Living God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only One by which I can obtain salvation and have an ongoing relationship with God. I believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, his virgin birth, his sinless life, his miracles, the atoning work of his shed blood, his resurrection and ascension, his intercession and his coming return to power and glory. I believe that those who follow Jesus are family and there should be unity among all who claim his name.
It’s hard to see the “Judaeo” in that statement, and its hard to find room for including many Christians, not to mention Buddhists, Muslims, or Hindus. In response to the narrow conception of the day, some atheists and others have protested the constitutionality of the Day, and have proposed an alternative National Day of Reason, to be observed on the same day.
What the National Day of Prayer cannot be is a mouthpiece for a single religious perspective– one that does not even include many within its own tradition. How might we in the wider religious community find ways to affirm the importance of religious commitment, and even of prayer, in a broader and more inclusive way?
- Call for an Inclusive Prayer Day
- National Day of Prayer in the US
- National Day of Prayer Task Force
- National Day of Reason