Here's what's going on:
- Last week, President Obama announced that the White House will not be holding an official event recognizing the National Day of Prayer as past Presidents have sometimes (not always) done. He will instead issue a "paper proclamation" declaring Thursday, May 6, to be the National Day of Prayer. There will still be events held at other venues in Washington, D.C., which many legislators are planning to attend.
- Also last week, "in Wisconsin, U.S. Federal Judge Barbara Crabb ruled in favor of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which argued that the government setting aside a day of prayer violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, FFRF is challenging the constitutionality of a 1988 federal law giving the president of the United States the authority to designate the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer." (from the NDP web site) At the moment, this ruling is essentially moot with regard to this year's National Day of Prayer because the ruling is under appeal.
NDP was signed into law by Harry Truman in 1952. The law was amended by President Reagan in 1988 to state that NDP would be observed on the first Thursday in May. Currently, most large scale NDP events are publicized and coordinated by the National Day of Day of Prayer Task Force, chaired by Shirley Dobson. (This is a private organization, not a governmental office.) There are also state and local level NDP organizations which coordinate NDP events throughout the United States.
In practice, the law establishing the National Day of Prayer is similar to the law establishing Thanksgiving Day. It sets aside a certain day for a general purpose and is largely ceremonial. As with celebrating Thanksgiving, the government cannot, by virtue of this law, tell you:
- that you MUST celebrate NDP,
- that you must celebrate it on the first Thursday in May,
- that you must celebrate it by praying,
- that you must pray to the God of the Bible,
- in what way, with what words, with whom, where, or how long to pray.
Likewise, even if the law establishing NDP is eventually declared unconstitutional (Judge Crabb's ruling is currently under appeal) and repealed, the government, at this point in time, cannot tell you that you CANNOT celebrate NDP. Right now, you are free to organize an NDP event at your home, church or Christian school, and, as long as you follow currently existing state and local laws, pretty much anywhere else that will agree to host you or in any public place where free assemblies of this nature are permitted.
In a way, these recent events have really been a blessing in disguise. They have generated an enormous amount of free and timely publicity for NDP, publicity that reaches far more people than the NDP Task Force's public relations department or churches could hope to reach. It has also renewed the resolve of many to consciously set aside May 6 as a day of prayer as a way of declaring their disagreement with these two governmental decisions and standing in favor of the freedom of religion.
The BAGBR prayer ministry urges pastors, staff, prayer coordinators, and church members to take advantage of the interest and awareness of NDP created by these recent decisions, by hosting your own National Day of Prayer event. If you're looking for some ideas or resources, check out the NDP web site, or contact Michelle Lesley at email@example.com or through the BAGBR office.
Information for this article was taken from various sources including: