May 06, 2015

The National Day of Prayer (NDP) is a constitutionally suspect government endorsement of religion, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says.

“The government should not be giving out prayer instructions,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Those who want to pray are more than capable of doing so without government coercion; those who do not wish to pray surely do not appreciate a federal directive endorsing belief over non-belief.”

NDP, which is May 7 this year, is a sectarian event with roots in fundamentalist Christianity. A joint resolution passed by Congress in 1952 asks the president to set aside one day per year so “the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation.”

In recent years, the majority of NDP observances have been coordinated by private Religious Right groups like the National Day of Prayer Task Force. Founded by Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, the Task Force promotes the myth that the U.S. is an officially “Christian nation” and restricts its events to members of Judeo-Christian traditions.

On its website, the Task Force urges supporters to pray for “seven spheres of influence,” including schools, government and the military. Its materials also claim that the United States requires “another Great Awakening,” and encourage participants to pray for the conversion of non-Christian public officials.

The Task Force will host a marathon Bible-reading session at the Idaho State Capitol, a “Prayer-a-Thon” at the Montana State Capitol and a prayer vigil at the Lafayette County Courthouse in Oxford, Miss., among other events.

In response, Americans United has produced a series of shareable informational graphics that explain the constitutional problems presented by NDP.