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ADF on striking down of National Day of Prayer statute: “It’s America’s heritage, and this day belongs to Americans”

Judge rules statute setting National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, ADF considering all possible legal options
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MADISON, Wis. — Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund are urging President Obama to appeal a federal judge’s decision in Wisconsin that struck down a federal statute that sets a day for the National Day of Prayer. The order does not affect presidential prayer proclamations and will not go into effect unless the decision still stands after all appeals are exhausted in the case.

“It’s important to remember this about the National Day of Prayer: It’s America’s heritage, and this day belongs to Americans,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster. “The court should not have struck down this statute. ADF urges the Obama administration to appeal this terrible ruling that not only undermines the National Day of Prayer, but the underlying heritage and tradition of the American people which dates back to the nation’s founding.”

“The National Day of Prayer 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,” Oster explained. “It does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and this decision should be appealed.”

In 1952, President Harry Truman signed into law a joint resolution of Congress to set aside an annual National Day of Prayer. Congress amended the law in 1988, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan, for the purpose of establishing a more particular date. The law currently reads, “The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged the constitutionality of the statute in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

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.” 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 the lawsuit, Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama. ADF is now considering all possible legal options at its disposal while simultaneously urging the Obama administration to appeal Thursday’s decision.

The court order does not demand that the 59th National Day of Prayer, which occurs May 6, be cancelled. On April 1, ADF sent letters to mayors nationwide, urging them to observe and participate in the event, which offers an opportunity for thousands of Americans to unite in prayer for the country at a variety of events nationwide. 

  • Pronunciation guide:  Oster (Oh-ster)

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.