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ADF files brief in support of National Day of Prayer’s constitutionality

ADF on board in appeal to reverse federal court ruling declaring the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional
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CHICAGO — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed a friend-of-the-court brief  Friday in support of the federal government’s  appeal of a federal judge’s ruling declaring the observance of the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. Millions of Americans and thousands of local leaders have traditionally prayed for the nation and its leaders during the annual event, which was codified by Congress in 1952.   

“Public officials should be able to participate in public prayer activities just as America’s founders did, and a recent federal judge’s ruling should not prevent America’s cities from lawfully observing the National Day of Prayer,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster. “We are confident that the 7th Circuit will uphold the federal statute setting a day for the National Day of Prayer.”

On April 15, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, for the Western District of Wisconsin, issued an opinion striking down the National Day of Prayer statute as violating the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. However, Crabb stayed her ruling until all appeals in the lawsuit, Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama, are exhausted; therefore, the court did not order the cancellation of this year’s 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 the lawsuit.

ADF attorneys sent letters to mayors across the country two weeks before Crabb’s decision, urging them to observe and participate in last May’s National Day of Prayer event, and resist unfounded demands from activist groups to discontinue honoring the day. The day after the April 15 ruling, ADF sent follow-up letters to mayors across America, informing them that the federal judge’s decision striking down the National Day of Prayer statute as unconstitutional in no way impeded their observance of this year’s 59th annual observance.The Obama administration appealed the judge’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit the week after it was issued.   

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 government recognition of the event by claiming Establishment Clause violations. ADF attorneys argue that such contentions are without merit.

The tradition of designating an official day of prayer began with the Continental Congress in 1775, after which 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, including 2010, all 50 governors, along with U.S. presidents, have issued proclamations in honor of the National Day of Prayer.

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.