By act of Congress, the first Thursday in May is set aside for the National Day of Prayer (NDP). Government officials issue proclamations urging people to gather for prayer, and religious events often take place at the seats of local, state and federal governments. Many of these events are coordinated by a private group, the National Day of Prayer Task Force.

Events often take place at the seat of government, but this does not mean the National Day of Prayer is a good idea. Many believe a government-backed call for prayer and religious worship violates the separation of church and state.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State raises the following objections:

Americans don’t need the government to tell them when or how to pray.

Americans have the right to pray for whomever they want and in what manner they like. But we don’t need an officially designated government proclamation to do that. Our people are free to engage in worship whenever they want. Allowing government to set aside certain days for prayer and worship implies that the state has some say over our religious lives when it does not. It is simply not the business of government to advise when, if and how people pray.  

The National Day of Prayer has been hijacked by the Religious Right, which uses it to promote religious bigotry.

In recent years, most NDP activities have been coordinated by the “National Day of Prayer Task Force,” an organization formerly run by Shirley Dobson, wife of Religious Right radio broadcaster James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family. The Task Force is now headed by the Rev. Ronnie Floyd. Although the Task Force claims the day is for everyone, in past years leaders of local events have excluded any speaker who is not a fundamentalist Christian. 

The National Day of Prayer has become a vehicle for spreading misinformation about American history and society.

In years past, the Task Force has used the NDP to promote bogus “Christian nation” history and advocate for erroneous claims that fundamentalist Christians are being persecuted in the United States or denied their right to spread their faith.  

The National Day of Prayer is not historical.

The NDP 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.  

The National Day of Prayer Is Unnecessary.

America does not need an official, government-mandated “National Day of Prayer.” Religious individuals who feel strongly about the country are free to pray for it at any time. They do not need to be directed or encouraged by government.  

Other Resources:

Jefferson and Madison on Prayer Proclamations 19th Century Congressman Gulian C. Verplanck criticizes Prayer Proclamations