Should the Government Declare a National Day of Prayer?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

(Flickr user Coach O. (cc: by-sa)/flickr)

Today is the National Day of Prayer; it's an official observance from Congress, and has been around since 1952. This year's event, however, could be the last time the federal government remains officially involved.  Last month a federal district court judge ruled that the government's involvement in the day violated the Constitution, by conflating church and state.  Should we have a National Day of Prayer?

Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, is a co-plaintiff in the suit that challenges the constitutionality of this day. She says it effectively mandates a religious action on Americans who want nothing to do with religion.  Dr. Joel Hunter, pastor of the Northland Church in Florida and religious advisor to President Obama, says the history of religion's presence in the public sphere is long and the day reflects that history.


Annie Laurie Gaylor and Joel Hunter

Produced by:

Jen Poyant

Comments [27]

bob from Orlando, FL

It is amazing to see the anger from both sides. The Christians should know better. The I hate anything that even looks like religion I feel great sympathy for ... see your country's history even if you do not agree, which I believe is a founding principle you probably support. Your founding leaders put In God We Trust on our money and your country was founded for religious freedom. So you practice that if you choose and don't pray. I wish you would but I don't get mad at you for that. But honor your country's heritage, or learn it to start with. God bless us in a Judeo-Christian founded country.

May. 09 2010 09:06 AM
Ruth Walker

Pastor Joel Hunter referred to the case of Marsh v Chambers as if it were evidence in favor of a national day of prayer.

Judge Crabb's ruling says in footnote 1: "This part of the report is not accurate. 1 Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783, 787
(1983) (“[P]rayers were not offered during the Constitutional Convention.”)"

Isn't truthfulness taught in church anymore?

May. 07 2010 03:31 PM
Dan Hilbert from Oregon

I am in favor of having a National Day of Crossing Out "In God We Trust" motto on our currency in protest of a National Day of Prayer. That should get our government and the Treasury's attention. Note: Use black felt tip marker.

May. 06 2010 10:05 PM
momintum from home

Time will prove the fallacy of all religions. The human specie with a developed imagination has fantasized itself individual and eternal continuance. Humanity has an affinity for dogma so the seemingly securities associated with supernatural divinity to some carries a mythical shelter that the more emotionally inclined find deceptively comforting. Judge Crabb should be commended for standing up and being counted. "To the common man religion is true. To the wise it is false. To the rulers it is useful." Seneca the Younger.

May. 06 2010 06:28 PM
Nancy from New York

I do not appreciate non-believers have the right to persecute my choice to believe and to practice my freedom to do so in any way I so choose.

May. 06 2010 02:38 PM
Mark from New York

Does the president have a psychic advisor also? Time has long past to move beyond superstition and ancient "beliefs".

Let's uphold the constitution and keep church and state separate.

May. 06 2010 12:06 PM
Denise from Colorado

My Webster's dictionary defines pray as "an address (as a petition) to God." A government sanctioned day of prayer implies that our government endorses a belief in a god. As a member of a minority of Americans who do not believe in a god (or gods) or in religion, I expect the majority of Americans who believe in a god to protect my rights and not impose a day of addressing God on me. I support your right to pray to whichever god or gods you choose on whichever day you choose. Please support my right to choose not to.

May. 06 2010 11:55 AM
Jim from New York

The day does not force people to pray, if they do not believe that God exists. We tend to pray when we are desperate and in need. The National Day of Prayer is an admission that we are in need and look to God for strength, wisdom and hope.

May. 06 2010 10:25 AM
Keepin' it Real

What usually, as it does here, stays entirely off the table in this sort of exchange is addressing the sheer inanity of prayer and why educated adults in the 21st century in the age of science would at all engage in such a palpably ludicrous practice.

May. 06 2010 10:21 AM

So if the government can order a "day of prayer" can it proclaim a "day of no praying"? Why not?
If you let the civil government have authority in religious matters where does it stop?
Roger Williams, come back, we've lost our way.

May. 06 2010 10:16 AM
Mary Jo from Atlantic Highlands, NJ

Where Ms. Gaylor and her Wisconsin cronies are mistaken is associating prayer with religion. President Obama is not saying "Let's have a day of converting to Christianity." He is saying, "Let's pray." I am a completely nonreligious person who prays all the time. I find it calming, centering, and a source of peace. Ms. Gaylor would better spend her energy going after things that can truly hurt the country, maybe religious radicalization.

May. 06 2010 09:57 AM
Jonathan Bricklin from Staten Island

Given that terrorists may in the end do a lot more than intimidate us, they might, perhaps, incinerate us (I speak here as a New Yorker), why not replace our National Day of Prayer with a National Day of Humility: Despite the best efforts of our people and government, we have no ultimate control of our destiny.

May. 06 2010 09:55 AM
Gray Curtis from Cataumet, MA

When the founding fathers stove for ratification of the Constitution, the states were of various religions. Consequently, although the country was religious, in order to reach accord with regard to governance, the Federal Government would leave religion to the states as their right to practice their religion. Pennsylvania was predominantly Quaker, Connecticut was predominantly Congregantional. Virginia, Massachusetts etc. had differing religious views.

Although the American Public is more tolerant today than historically, the Federal Government should refrain from promoting religion. Theocracies are dangerous to the secular and, hopefully, rational leadership of the country.

If an annual day of prayer is important to citizens in a state, let them establish such a day in their state.

May. 06 2010 09:47 AM
Dominick DePinto from New Jersey

I am strongly in favor of the separation of church and state but it seems this is a case of people going out of there way to create an issue. If someone doesn't want to pray that's fine. I don't believe anyone is being stigmatized because they are not praying.

May. 06 2010 09:41 AM
Jon Dreyer from Lexington MA US

This day is clearly not neutral with respect to religion. This day clearly has no secular purpose. What is the Establishment Clause for if not to protect us from things like this?

May. 06 2010 09:41 AM
Pat from Chicago, IL

The only part of the proclamation that bothers me (and I am a catholic) is the part where it says "God" because I assume, based on the origin, that it strictly refers to a 'judeo-christian' god. How about a more open proclamation to all religions and non-religious thoughts? why is that so hard?

May. 06 2010 09:41 AM
Denise from Michigan

I do not have a problem with a recognized "National Day of Prayer". I do not feel pressured/required to participate in this event. I think it is absurd that some consider this undue influence on their liberty and their choice of religion or their choice to not have religion. I view it much like the television; if you do not like the program, you turn off the tv. If you do not like the day of prayer, do not participate.

May. 06 2010 09:33 AM
abby from NJ

Why is there so little faith in people? If you are someone who prays, my guess is you will do this without a need for a government sponsored day of prayer. I actually pray a lot. I pray fervently that our elected representatives will stop using religion to jockey for power, that moral choices will be made by them without the influence of partisan politicking.

May. 06 2010 09:32 AM
Jacquie in Mass. from Massachusetts

Our constitution guarantees freedom of religion, I don’t think the government should have any say in religious matters at all. They are there to run the country not to tell us when we should or shouldn’t pray. Wonder what the people who support this will say if Muslims become more powerful and require calls to prayer to be announce over loud speakers as they do in the Middle East.

May. 06 2010 09:31 AM
John Dooley from RI

Would the people who support this still be in favor if they were required to face Mecca? That is what it is like for nonbelievers. If you want to pray, any day can be your day of prayer.

May. 06 2010 09:21 AM
Christina from Colorado

It is a complete violation of the constitution to have an official day of prayer. Prayer is private and the individual has to right to declare any and all days as their personal day of prayer. All forms of government, local to national, absolutely must be separated from religion. That's one of the tenents our constitution is based on.

May. 06 2010 09:14 AM
jean from Hunterdon County NJ

That there is a day when people are ALLOWED to take a moment for prayer is one thing. That a presidential proclamation URGES or ENCOURAGES people to do so is another, and in my view, clearly unconstitutional. The excuses that our Congress opens every day with a prayer reading, and our coinage says "In God We Trust" is not a proper justification; in my view those are also unconstitutional actions. No school could get away, now, with opening the school day with prayer, so why is it correct in Congress, the seat of our laws? I would, however, be OK with the following motto on our coins: " In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash." (Mark Twain?)

May. 06 2010 08:21 AM

A National Day of Prayer? Perfect! Being American means saying one thing while doing the opposite, from TJ and slavery to CIA and (insert favorite country where the US took the side of the dictator over a popular uprising), to Iran/Contra, and now this. I guess we have given up. We have been reduced to a nation of christian holy warriors in the eyes of the world. Why can't we call it what it really is; National Day of Doing Nothing and Feeling Good About It. I'd rather have a job and single-payer not-for-profit health insurance.

May. 06 2010 08:16 AM
David Terhune from Brooklyn, New York

When our money says "In God We Trust," and our presidents end every speech with "God Bless America," we should not be surprised by a law that encourges prayer to a diety. I don't think religious beliefs and governance should be mixed, but religion relies on power and control, and by its very nature it will continue to have a political presence.

May. 06 2010 08:03 AM

I don't care if and when anyone prays - but I don't want our Presidents signing a declaration advising us to do so. Praying is not in my family's DNA (generational habits are not genetic traits).

May. 06 2010 07:39 AM
Laura from New Jersey

This day does not acknowledge any religion, it merely acknowledges the existence of prayer, it does not force anything on anyone. In that respect this society has advanced leaps and bounds since 1952.
Personally, as an Agnostic and former Athiest, I don't care what government mentions of God just as long it doesn't dictate what I should believe.
Let the God fearing have their day.

May. 06 2010 07:20 AM
Séamus from Hoboken, NJ

Freedom FROM religon is just as important as freedom OF religon. We do not need a government sponsored day supporting religon. If you want to - pray, if you do not want to - do not pray but do not push praying on non-belivers.

May. 06 2010 07:14 AM

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