SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Alliance Defense Fund sent follow-up letters to mayors across America Friday, informing them that a federal judge’s decision striking down the National Day of Prayer statute as unconstitutional in no way impedes their observance of this year’s 59th annual observance. The Obama administration appealed the judge’s decision Thursday.
An initial letter was sent by ADF to mayors on April 1, urging them to observe and participate in the May 6 event and resist unfounded demands from activist groups to discontinue honoring the day. 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 does not prevent America’s cities from lawfully observing the National Day of Prayer on May 6,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Mike Johnson. “We are confident that a higher court will uphold the federal statute protecting 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 specifically stayed her ruling until all appeals in the lawsuit, Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama, are exhausted; therefore, the court does not demand 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.
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 by claiming Establishment Clause violations. ADF attorneys argue that such contentions are without merit.
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.
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.