National Day of Prayer Under Attack

Inside the Issues with Alan Sears

Alan Sears, Esquire

ADF President, CEO, & Legal Counsel

March 17, 2009

Apparently, just the idea of people praying right out loud in public is enough to drive some people crazy.  And the thought that a whole nation of people – tens of thousands in cities and on school campuses and in churches and kitchens and living rooms all over America – might be praying more or less together, on the same day, for the same things, is enough to bring some people … well, to their knees.

Among those panic-stricken at the prospect of mass intercessions are the folks at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the annual observance of the National Day of Prayer (NDOP).  Among those specifically named in the lawsuit when it was filed were government officials like former President George W. Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, and NDOP Task Force Chairperson Shirley Dobson, who is being represented by attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund.

This year's 58th National Day of Prayer is scheduled for May 7 and will include a variety of events nationwide (  Last year, ADF attorneys sent an information letter to nearly 1,200 of America's largest cities, advising them of their constitutional right to recognize and participate in the National Day of Prayer.

On March 9, ADF attorneys asked a federal court to throw out anti-prayer lawsuit, which claims, among other things, that government-issued proclamations calling on citizens to pray are unconstitutional. The motion to dismiss – the second filed by ADF attorneys – comes in response to an amended complaint filed in the lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

"Prayer proclamations are a long-established and cherished American tradition going back to the Founding Fathers and President George Washington," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster. "This is simply a ridiculous lawsuit and an example of one radical organization's allergic reaction to anything involving God."

Americans have been encouraged to pray by their leaders since the Pilgrims first waded ashore.  In 1775, the Continental Congress made it official by calling on the colonists to beseech the Almighty's guidance on the forming of a new nation.  Members of the Constitutional Convention even adjourned to pray fervently over their historic efforts.

Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, and wartime presidents, up to and including George W. Bush, have urged citizens to intercede for their soldiers and their nation.  In 1952, President Harry S. Truman established an annual National Day of Prayer via a joint resolution of Congress. That law was amended in 1988 and signed into law by Ronald Reagan to set the day as the first Thursday of May.

I've seen firsthand the power of prayer coming out of these National Day of Prayer events. I've seen the unity that it builds between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. I've seen Orthodox Jews bowing deeply in prayer with Christians from almost every stripe imaginable. I've seen people from all parts of the country, all different kinds of occupations, all kinds of denominations laying down their differences for the day to say, "God, we need your help, your guidance, your mercy."

It's our prayer that the federal courts won't give this lawsuit the time of day.  Please pray for that, for the courage of those being sued and the wisdom of the attorneys defending them, and for our nation—that we will indeed be a people of prayer in these dark and difficult days.
And, if you want to support the effort to defend the National Day of Prayer and protect our First Amendment right to religious liberty, visit