SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Alliance Defense Fund sent letters to mayors across the U.S. Thursday urging them to observe and participate in the 59th Annual National Day of Prayer on May 6 and resist the unfounded demands of activist groups that claim the tradition is unlawful. Millions of Americans and thousands of local leaders participate in the event every year.
“America’s founders participated in public prayer activities; public officials today should be able to do the same,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Mike Johnson. “Local observances of the National Day of Prayer are both lawful and appropriate, particularly since the event simply provides an opportunity for all Americans to pray voluntarily according to their own faith--and does not promote any particular religion or form of religious observance. No legal precedent suggests that the observance of this event violates the Constitution.”
In 1952, President Harry Truman signed into law a joint resolution by Congress to set aside an annual National Day of Prayer. Congress amended the law in 1988, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan, specifying that the annual event would be observed on “the first Thursday in May each year.” However, atheists and activist groups have challenged the constitutionality of local governments to recognize the event, claiming Establishment Clause violations. ADF explains in its letter why such contentions are without merit.
“You can be confident that your participation in and acknowledgement of the National Day of Prayer are constitutionally protected activities,” states the ADF letter. “You are free to proclaim your city’s support for this event, and you are under no obligation to satisfy the demands of any disgruntled individual or civil libertarian group that may oppose such action. It is both lawful and wise for public officials to respect and cherish our religious heritage....”
Public prayer has been a cherished tradition since America’s founding. The tradition of designating an official day of prayer actually began with the Continental Congress in 1775, after which President George Washington issued a National Day of Thanksgiving Proclamation. Ever since, American presidents have made similar proclamations and “appeals to the Almighty.” ADF attorneys note that proclamations and appeals of state and local officials are no different. Historically, all 50 governors, along with U.S. presidents, have issued proclamations in honor of the National Day of Prayer.
In March, ADF attorneys succeeded in having Shirley Dobson, chairperson of the private non-profit National Day of Prayer Task Force, dismissed from a lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that attacks the National Day of Prayer. The lawsuit, Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama, is ongoing in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.