Federally Mandated National Day of Prayer Unconstitutional - updated 10/13/2012

Sheila Musaji

Posted Oct 13, 2012      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Federally Mandated National Day of Prayer Unconstitutional

by Sheila Musaji

Updates at bottom of article

In June 2009 we posted the following:

President Obama Brings National Day of Prayer Back in Line With Constitution

President Obama has been accused of cancelling or even banning the National Day of Prayer.  This is untrue.  President Obama did not cancel the National Day of Prayer.  In fact there were a lot of observances all across the country including one in Washington D.C. at the Cannon House Building on May 7, 2009.  Religion News even has photographs of James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, with his wife, Shirley Dobson, chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, speaking at a press conference.  And, the Taskforce website says the event was a great success.

History of the National Day of Prayer

According to the Huffington Post“Congress established the day in 1952 and in 1988 set the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations asking Americans to pray.” 

According to the Religious Tolerance website:

”... National Day of Prayer (NDP) which is authorized by Federal statute. The NDP was originally conceived as an partly-inclusive celebration for the majority of Americans who believe in a personal deity or deities who respond to prayer. This would include most followers of monotheistic religions: conservative Christians, liberal Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and perhaps Deists. It had included believers in duotheistic religions, such as Wicca and Zoroastrianism, as well as polytheistic and henotheistic religions, such as most Aboriginal traditions, some Buddhist groups, Hinduism, etc. However, the Day appears to have been monopolized by a conservative Christian group who have converted it into a conservative-Christian-only observance. It is now coordinated by a conservative Christian group the National Day of Prayer Task Force which is closely affiliated with the Fundamentalist Christian Focus on the Family. A Nationally Broadcast Concert of Prayer (NBCOP) is broadcast over a network of conservative Christian television and radio stations and over the Internet on the evening of the Day of Prayer.”

According to Interfaith Space

“The White House has announced that President Obama plans to issue a proclamation marking the National Day of Prayer on May 7, but that there will not be a White House sponsored prayer service on that day. “Prayer is something that the president does every day,” said spokesman Robert Gibbs. “Privately, he’ll pray as he does every day.”

This marks a significant change from the Bush administration’s habit of gathering religious leaders for an event in the East Room. George W. Bush was the first president to regularly host such events. Before that time, NDP task force leaders held more low-key events, including at Lafayette Park across the street during the Clinton administration.

Predictably, the National Day of Prayer Task Force is not pleased with Obama’s decision. They said, in part:

“While there will be tens of thousands of prayer gatherings throughout the nation, on May 7th, the Obama Administration announced there will not be a White House Observance for the National Day of Prayer this year, contrary to the administrations of President George W. Bush, President George H. W. Bush, and President Ronald Reagan. A White House Observance was not held during the administration of President Bill Clinton.”

They fail to note that events held by Reagan and the former Bush were not regular practice. Reagan’s event was held in the Rose Garden in 1982, the second year of his administration. Reagan did not again sponsor a gathering, even when in 1988, he set the date for observing the National Day of Prayer. (In 1983 Reagan’s proclomation was very much inclusive “Revived as an annual observance by Congress in 1952, the National Day of Prayer has become a great unifying force for our citizens who come from all the great religions of the world. Prayer unites people. This common expression of reverence heals and brings us together as a Nation and we pray it may one day bring renewed respect for God to all the peoples of the world.”  In fact, this is not so different from Pres. Obama’s statement that set off so much protest.)  George H.W. Bush held a breakfast in 1989 in the Rose Garden, but it, also, was the only officially endorsed gathering. The Task Force tries to give the impression that the National Day of Prayer was a regular event until Clinton, and now Obama.”

According to the Tanenbaum Center:

“The White House will issue an official proclamation but skip the East Room event.  Basically, President Obama is hitting the reset button and going back to the way previous presidents handled the National Day of Prayer.  Under previous administrations, such as President George Bush Sr. and President Ronald Reagan, proclamations were issued but there was no White House event. ... While they probably saw this coming, the National Day of Prayer Task Force has expressed dissatisfaction with the Obama administration’s stance – after all, for eight years they’ve been welcome in the White House with the President’s full support.  Yet President Obama has demonstrated greater inclusivity from day one – remember his Inauguration speech?  The President’s statement, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers” touched a nerve with many conservative Christian groups.”


The National Day of Prayer Taskforce who organized the last eight years events says this on their website:


The National Day of Prayer Task Force’s mission is to communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, mobilizing the Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership in the seven centers of power: Government, Military, Media, Business, Education, Church and Family.

Our Vision and Values

In accordance with Biblical truth, the National Day of Prayer Task Force seeks to:

Foster unity within the Christian Church
Protect America’s Constitutional Freedoms to gather, worship, pray and speak freely.
Publicize and preserve America’s Christian heritage
Encourage and emphasize prayer, regardless of current issues and positions
Respect all people, regardless of denomination or creed
Be wise stewards of God’s resources and provision
Glorify the Lord in word and deed

Who We Are and What We Do

The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance held on the first Thursday of May, inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation. It was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman. Our Task Force is a privately funded organization whose purpose is to encourage participation on the National Day of Prayer. It exists to communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, to create appropriate materials, and to mobilize the Christian community to intercede for America’s leaders and its families. The Task Force represents a Judeo Christian expression of the national observance, based on our understanding that this country was birthed in prayer and in reverence for the God of the Bible.

Official Policy Statement on Participation of “Non-Judeo-Christian” groups in the National Day of Prayer:

The National Day of Prayer Task Force was a creation of the National Prayer Committee for the expressed purpose of organizing and promoting prayer observances conforming to a Judeo-Christian system of values. People with other theological and philosophical views are, of course, free to organize and participate in activities that are consistent with their own beliefs. This diversity is what Congress intended when it designated the Day of Prayer, not that every faith and creed would be homogenized, but that all who sought to pray for this nation would be encouraged to do so in any way deemed appropriate. It is that broad invitation to the American people that led, in our case, to the creation of the Task Force and the Judeo-Christian principles on which it is based.” (emphasis mine)

If that doesn’t make it clear enough - if you volunteer to help out with events in your area, you are only welcome if you sign the following: “A volunteer must be an evangelical Christian who has a personal relationship with Christ. I acknowledge that I am working for the Lord Jesus Christ and the furthering of His Work on earth and agree to perform my work with the highest standard of Christian faith.”

The issue is that the National Day of Prayer has become an exclusively Christian event.  It has been organized by the taskforce for the past eight years, and for the past eight years only during the Presidency of George W. Bush, there was also a ceremony in the East Room of the White House which was organized by Shirley Dobson of the National Day of Prayer Taskforce.  This has lent credence to the complaints of groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State who protested that the event had been hijacked by the Religious Right.  The Christian Science Monitor noted that: “This year, however, voices are being raised to challenge the religiously exclusive nature of the task-force effort, which is coordinated by conservative Christians who have encouraged government leaders’ involvement in their events but rejected direct participation by other faith leaders.”

This rejection includes the 2004 incident where:  “A Utah County interfaith group is refusing to participate Thursday in a National Day of Prayer event in Orem because national and state organizers won’t allow members of the LDS Church to lead prayer services.”   

There is a Campaign for an Inclusive National Day of Prayer and they have stated:

“May 7, 2009. Our campaign applauds President Barack Obama’s inclusive proclamation today of the National Day of Prayer. JewsOnFirst.org, the parent organization of the campaign for an Inclusive National Day of Prayer, welcomed President Obama’s open-hearted proclamation with its focus on unity for the benefit of our nation. JewsOnFirst.org and the Interfaith Alliance wrote to President Obama last month requesting just such an inclusive approach and also asking the president not to issue a separate proclamation for the exclusivist fundamentalist Christian group linked to Focus on the Family that has hijacked the annual observance. We thank everyone who joined our campaign and wrote to the president. Please click here to read President Obama’s statement and a responding statement from the Interfaith Alliance.

Help Get President Obama Onboard! Jews on First and Interfaith Alliance have jointly sent a letter to President Obama requesting his endorsement of an Inclusive Day of Prayer on May 7th to help counter the exclusivist National Day of Prayer promoted by Shirley Dobson and the National Day of Prayer Task Force. The letter requests the President Obama restore the day to its original meaning, as a day of prayer and mediation for all people. Read the origninal letter and then send your own letter of support through the Interfaith Alliance.

The National Day of Prayer falls on May 7th this year, and in most parts of the country, there is a religious “litmus test” limiting participation to fundamentalist Christian evangelicals. Focus on the Family, the largest organization on the Christian Right, and groups allied with it control the occasion, calling themselves the National Day of Prayer Task Force and asserting that their website is the “National Day of Prayer Official Website.”

The National Day of Prayer has been hijacked! What began in 1952 as President Truman’s declaration of a National Prayer Day for all Americans is now excluding and dividing us on religious lines. The “Task Force” excludes Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics and even mainline Christians from participation in the events it coordinates around the country. Many of those events are staged in government venues with elected officials, in a deliberate affront to the separation of church and state.

Our Inclusive National Prayer Day project works with religious, civil rights and social justice activists in many states to lobby elected officials to refrain from proclaiming or endorsing the National Day of Prayer in ways that enhance the Task Force’s exclusive control of the day and its efforts to create the appearance of government-sponsored religious ceremonies. We also work to educate the public about the Task Force’s religious discrimination.

We have posted a sample letter that you can send your elected officials, requesting that they not issue special proclamations or give special treatment to the Task Force.

As they did last year, groups working with the Campaign for an Inclusive National Day of Prayer will call on elected officials to insure that clergy representing Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and other faith traditions be included in all observances staged on public property. Some groups held their own inclusive events. You can read about those events here. And you can see news coverage of last year’s campaign here.”

President Obama’s Statement on the National Day of Prayer:


Throughout our Nation’s history, Americans have come together in moments of great challenge and uncertainty to humble themselves in prayer. In 1775, as the Continental Congress began the task of forging a new Nation, colonists were asked to observe a day of quiet humiliation and prayer. Almost a century later, as the flames of the Civil War burned from north to south, President Lincoln and the Congress once again asked the American people to pray as the fate of their Nation hung in the balance.

It is in that spirit of unity and reflection that we once again designate the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer. Let us remember those who came before us, and let us each give thanks for the courage and compassion shown by so many in this country and around the world.

On this day of unity and prayer, let us also honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. We celebrate their commitment to uphold our highest ideals, and we recognize that it is because of them that we continue to live in a Nation where people of all faiths can worship or not worship according to the dictates of their conscience.

Let us also use this day to come together in a moment of peace and goodwill. Our world grows smaller by the day, and our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife; and to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. As we observe this day of prayer, we remember the one law that binds all great religions together: the Golden Rule, and its call to love one another; to understand one another; and to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.

The Congress, by Public Law 100-307, as amended, has called on the President to issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a “National Day of Prayer.”

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 7, 2009, as a National Day of Prayer. I call upon Americans to pray in thanksgiving for our freedoms and blessings and to ask for God’s continued guidance, grace, and protection for this land that we love.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this seventh day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.


The Interfaith Alliance responded to the President’s statement:

Interfaith Alliance Praises President’s National Day of Prayer Proclamation

Washington, DC – Interfaith Alliance President Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy issued the following statement in response to the proclamation issued this afternoon by President Obama for the National Day of Prayer:

President Obama did the right thing today by issuing a proclamation for the National Day of Prayer that is inclusive of all Americans. We must cherish the freedom in this country to pray or not to pray.

The reality is that we don’t need our elected leaders to instruct us in the ways of religion just as we don’t need our religious leaders to tell us for whom to vote. However, if we are going to have such a day, I am glad to see that this president understands that it should be inclusive.

Interfaith Alliance, along with Jews on First, sent a letter to the president in April calling for him to support an inclusive day of prayer and reject the exclusionist version supported by Shirley Dobson’s so-called National Day of Prayer Task Force.

Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism. Founded in 1994, Interfaith Alliance has 185,000 members across the country from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition. For more information visit http://www.interfaithalliance.org

I believe that all Americans who believe in Separation of Church and State owe a debt of thanks to President Obama for returning the National Day of Prayer to the status it has had historically, and for honoring the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of our Constitution.  A specifically Christian event sponsored by the government would certainly give preferential treatment to one religion over others, and moves dangerously in the direction of establishing Christianity as the natiional religion.

Originally posted 6/24/09

9/25/09 UPDATE

Shame on the National Day of Prayer Task Force

In response to the Muslim Day of Prayer on Capitol Hill, officials from the Family Research Council and the National Day of Prayer Task Force hosted a national call-in prayer-a-thon on the night before in which one woman prayed, “We take together (God’s) sword and break the sword of Islam over this nation, and we loose forth the blood-drenched sword of Jesus Christ.”  Also during this conference call: “Shirley Dobson, who heads the National Day of Prayer Task Force, said she and other Christians “are so troubled at what we see going on in our nation—we’re watching the foundations crumble.”

According to Dakota Voice“Christian evangelist Lou Engle of TheCall has partnered with Shirley Dobson, chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force and wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, to issue an urgent nationwide call for Christians to pray and fast on Sept. 25 – the day when up to 50,000 Muslims plan to pray in front of the Capitol building.”  This event was promoted on The Call site.  Windows International issued a prayer alert which included the statement that “It is our responsibility to pray the Lord protects America from the subtle tactics satan is using to release demonic prayers in a nation founded on Christian principles.”

Christian protestors who showed up at the Muslim Prayer included “Proselytizing Christians in red T-shirts with the slogan, “Jesus is the standard,” targeted Muslims as they walked on the lawn. A few with bullhorns denounced Islamic beliefs. And at the nearby Sam Rayburn House Office building, a group called Stop Islamization Of America held a panel discussion criticizing the event.  “They say it’s a prayer event, but it’s a political action,” said Daniel L. Adams, a leader of the SIOA group. “Folks have their own places to worship. They’re called mosques, synagogues or churches. But when you come to the Capitol of the United States, it becomes political, because it’s a demonstration.”

Amazing!  Basically the same folks who objected to Obama not holding official Christian National Day of Prayer services in the White House are now saying that any prayer in a public place, outside of places of worship is “political” and a “demonstration”.

UPDATE 4/15/10

Americans United for Separation of Church and State reports

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin ruled that the federal law violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

Crabb held that the sole purpose of the federal law “is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context. In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.”

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said, “This decision is a tremendous victory for religious liberty. Congress has no business telling Americans when or how to pray.

“The Constitution forbids the government to meddle in religious matters,” Lynn continued. “Decisions about worship should be made by individuals without direction from elected officials. That’s what freedom is all about.”

Lynn said the National Day of Prayer is of recent vintage. It was created by Congress in 1952. The scheduling of the event used to change, but it was codified by Congress in 1988 (after pressure from the Religious Right) as the first Thursday in May.

Lynn noted that America’s Founders did not intend for government to intrude in Americans’ individual religious choices. Thomas Jefferson, for example, refused to issue prayer proclamations, observing, “Fasting & prayer are religious exercises. The enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises, & the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands, where the Constitution has deposited it.”

James Madison, considered the Father of the Constitution, issued a few prayer proclamations at the behest of Congress during the War of 1812. But he later wrote that he regretted the move.

Governmental religious proclamations, Madison observed, “seem to imply and certainly nourish the erroneous idea of a national religion.” He warned that there would always be a tendency “to narrow the recommendation to the standard of the predominant sect.”

UPDATE 4/23/2010

We just received the following press release from MRFF

Threat of Legal Action From MRFF Moves Pentagon to Cut Franklin Graham from National Day of Prayer

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO - Albuquerque-based Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) this week strongly criticized the Pentagon for inviting Franklin Graham to speak at the National Day of Prayer Task Force Event scheduled for May 6, 2010. The MRFF charged that Graham has a long history of making inflammatory statements that indicate a universal prejudice against the entirety of Islam and the totality of its Muslim followers, calling the entire religious faith “false”,“evil,”, “wicked” and “violent” and it demanded that the Pentagon remove Graham from the National Day of Prayer Task Force program. “It would be just like bringing someone in for the National Day of Prayer that made terribly hateful and bigoted references to all of Christianity or Judaism and all of its faith followers,” said Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, President and Founder of MRFF.

Today, the Pentagon announced that, after MRFF threat of legal action, on behalf of the Pentagon’s Islamic community, it would remove Graham from the National Day of Prayer program. Franklin Graham released the following statement:

“I regret that the Army felt it was necessary to rescind their invitation to the National Day of Prayer Task Force to participate in the Pentagon’s special prayer service. I want to express my strong support for the United States military and all our troops. I will continue to pray that God will give them guidance, wisdom and protection as they serve this great country.”


Army disinvites Graham to Pentagon Prayer Day http://www.aolnews.com/story/army-disinvites-graham-to-pentagon/993216?cid=9
Franklin Graham Disinvited From Pentagon Prayer Day For Calling Islam Evil, Offensive http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/22/franklin-graham-disinvite_n_548509.html

Here are a few quotes from Rev. Franklin Graham collected in our Alarming Statements section that show why clearly this is not a man who should be speaking at any inclusive National Day of Prayer:

Rev. Franklin Graham said “This country was not built by Hindus, nor Muslims, nor atheists. It was built by Christian men and women.” 

Rev. Graham also said  “We’re not attacking Islam but Islam has attacked us. The God of Islam is not the same God. He’s not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It’s a different God, and I believe it [Islam] is a very evil and wicked religion.” 

Graham  also said that “Islam requires its followers to become suicide bombers in order to attain salvation”. 

Franklin Graham - on Nightline “If people think Islam is such a wonderful religion, then go to Saudi Arabia and make it your home.  Just live there. If you think Islam is such a wonderful religion, go and live under the Taliban somewhere.” 

Franklin Graham said Islam teaches its followers to “persecute” others until they convert, with the aim being “total domination.” 

Graham said There is no escaping the unfortunate fact that Muslim government employees in law enforcement, the military and the diplomatic corps need to be watched for connections to terrorism.” 

He said “I speak out for people that live under Islam, that are enslaved by Islam and I want them to know that they can be free, free through faith in Jesus Christ and Christ alone.”

A recent poll showed that more than half of Protestant pastors in the U.S. say Islam is dangerous - and our Alarming Statements sections has quotes by many of them.

UPDATE 4/25/2010

John Bornschein, executive director of the National Day of Prayer Task Force announced after Graham was disinvited, that the task force would pull out of the Pentagon event.

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association said regarding the Graham incident that “Bottom line: you want to know who’s now running the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy and the Marines and calling the shots where it counts? Fundamentalist Muslims and homosexual activists.”

Sarah Palin attempted to whitewash Graham’s statements when she said “His comments in 2001 were aimed at those who are so radical that they would kill innocent people and subjugate women in the name of religion. Are we really so hyper-politically correct that we can’t abide a Christian minister who expresses his views on matters of faith? What a shame. Yes, things have changed.”  The fact is that what Graham actually said in 2001 and later was aimed at the entire religion of Islam, not at only “radical” Muslims. 

Former Navy Chaplain Klingenschmitt said  in an article attempting to smear Mikey Weinstein of MRFF by calling him anti-Christian and anti-Semitic “I personally invite the anti-Christian Mikey Weinstein to come pray with us, and give his life to Jesus Christ.”   This is the same Chaplain who previously prayed imprecatory prayers against Weinstein and others who do not hold his views.  In this prayer he said “Let us pray.  Almighty God, today we pray imprecatory prayers from Psalm 109 against the enemies of religious liberty, including Barry Lynn and Mikey Weinstein, who issued press releases this week attacking me personally.  God, do not remain silent, for wicked men surround us and tell lies about us.  We bless them, but they curse us.  Therefore find them guilty, not me.  Let their days be few, and replace them with Godly people.  Plunder their fields, and seize their assets.  Cut off their descendants, and remember their sins, in Jesus’ name. Amen.” 

UPDATE 5/26/2010

Chris Rodda has written a great article National Day of Prayer 2010 Postmortem in which she notes   Even if Graham had never uttered a single disparaging word against the religion of Islam, his invitation to speak at the Pentagon National Day of Prayer event would still have been in violation of Department of Defense regulations.  She then explains in detail why this is so.

UPDATE 10/13/2012

The Islamophobes are once again bringing up this non-issue of the National Day of Prayer in connection with the current election campaign.  Here is the email currently making the rounds:

If he gets re-elected “it’s all over but the crying”  I HOPE I GET AT LEAST THREE BACK When we get 100,000,000, that’s one hundred million willing Christians to BOND together, voice their concerns and vote, we can take back America with God’s help, Become one of the One hundred million, then lets get 200 million. It can be done by sending this email to your friends. Do the math. It only takes a willing heart and a fed up soul. God Bless America and Shine your light on Her..

In 1952 President Truman established one day a year as a “National Day of Prayer.” In 1988 President Reagan designated the First Thursday in May of each year as the National Day of Prayer. In June 2007 (then) Presidential Candidate Barack Obama declared that the USA “Was no longer a Christian nation.”

This year President Obama canceled the 21st annual National Day of Prayer ceremony at the White House under the ruse of “not wanting to offend anyone”.  BUT… on September 25, 2009 from 4 AM until 7 PM, a National Day of Prayer FOR THE MUSLIM RELIGION was Held on Capitol Hill, Beside the White House.  There were over 50,000 Muslims in D.C. that day.

HE PRAYS WITH THE MUSLIMS! I guess it Doesn’t matter if “Christians” Are offended by this event - We obviously Don’t count as “anyone” Anymore.

The direction this country is headed should strike fear in the heart of every Christian, especially knowing that the Muslim religion believes that if Christians cannot be converted, they should be annihilated.  This is not a Rumor - Go
to the website To confirm this info:  http://www.islamoncapitolhill.com/ 

Send this to ten people and the person who sent it to you!... to let them know that indeed, it was sent out to many more.

The 2009 Muslim prayer day event the email refers to was discussed at length in a TAM article Muslim Prayer Event in D.C. Not Well Thought Out.  The bottom line is that the organizers of this event, applied for a permit for a prayer event which they privately organized and which was open to people of all faiths.  Anyone can apply for such a permit for a gathering in public spaces.  The gathering was not sponsored by the government. Other religious gatherings have been held on the same Mall, for example the Christian Promise Keepers gathering back in 1997 and the Christian Call to Prayer gathering in 2008 in which Mike Huckabee participated.  There were not 50,000 people present, although that is what the organizers had hoped for.  Various news sources reported from 1,000 to 10,000 in attendance.

No amount of factual information seems to penetrate the minds of Islamopobes and they continually bring up the same false stories over and over again.