Thursday, May 5, 2011

Unanswered Questions about the National Day of Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer, an event that has taken place every year since its creation in 1952. Judging by the video above, it seems as though the United States is in imminent danger of being utterly destroyed by evil clouds, or god, I’m not sure. Each president who has been in office since the National Day of Prayer was conceived has chosen to participate in the event in his own way, from President George W. Bush’s annual NDP events in the East Room of the White House to President Obama’s 2009 choice to participate privately while issuing a paper proclamation. While the constitutionality of the event is questionable, it is up to each president to determine how he shall participate.

President Obama has come under fire each year for choosing to not hold events in the White House in honor of the day, a practice that was only annual under President George W. Bush. Rumors spread that he had cancelled the NDP completely, starting in 2009, but that is simply not the case. Obama chooses to pray on his own, while still recognizing his responsibility to issue a NDP proclamation. The bill signed by President Truman in 1952, requires each president to issue a National Day of Prayer but it does not require that there be an event held at the White House, or anywhere else for that matter.

Why we even need a federally proclaimed day of prayer is something I am struggling to understand. I have many unanswered questions regarding this practice and I would like to ask anyone who supports the NDP the following questions. Why should the government call for a day of prayer? What purpose does the government’s endorsement of a day of prayer serve? Why should the government be involved in a strictly religious event? Does the government proclamation of a national day of prayer violate the separation of church and state? Is it the government’s responsibility to inform the public when they can, or should, pray (or not pray) for the country? Why do people want the government to entertain religious practices? Is it not better for all involved for the government to stay out of religious matters?

Anyone in support of, or opposed to, the NDP, please enlighten me. I eagerly await any feedback. Also, in the coming days I will be writing a series of blogs dealing with the religious right and the threat they pose to our country. Check back regularly and provide comments!


  1. For me this is one of those topics that I don't really care too much about...kinda one of those annoying things that people use to complain about when they can't find anything else to complain about. But with the little time that I've spent contemplating an opinion on the subject I came to the conclusion that I can support a national day of prayer. Mainly because in my opinion the "church" does not own the practice of prayer and in no way does prayer only have use for Christians. I don't care what your beliefs are whether you are a self proclaimed atheist or a born again christian, I guarantee the action of prayer can not negatively affect your life and in fact would more than likely affect your life in a positive way. Prayer and meditation go hand in hand, we could just as easily call this a national day of prayer and meditation and I think it would satisfy most people with complaints. My real reason for my support of this day is because at the end of the day this is just a reason for Americans to take a minute and concentrate on positive thoughts and love and in my opinion that can never be a bad thing.

  2. Thanks again, Philio. I appreciate the feedback. I agree that there are benefits to prayer/meditation. I also agree there could be a benefit for Americans to sit back and think hopefully about our situation. The problem I have, I suppose, is that this is simply part of a larger problem. The religious right in this country are, and have been for the last 30 years, having far too large an impact on national discourse. It seems that every time you turn around there is more news about some legislative body attempting to pass strictly religious based laws. Everything from women's rights to education to healthcare to marriage equality is tainted by their reach and power. I agree that the NDP is, among all the issues, relatively unimportant. It is just a symptom of a larger problem.

  3. The video you posted for this topic makes me feel ill. It never ceases to amaze me how far these people will go to push their fear-mongering agenda. Pray with us now or face the ominous dark cloud of doom! It is precisely the kind of nonsense they are pushing on Capital Hill. These people do not believe in secularism or in religious pluralism. They view themselves as fundamentally correct and infallible in their conviction, and so the logical next step is to force their view onto every other person so as to "save" them from themselves. They want to see a purely theocratic society in which "god's" rules are the sigular basis for all legislative decisions. Continued support for the National Day of Prayer is one more way in which they are slowly chipping away at the wall between church and state. Those of us who stand by and dismiss this as harmless and innocent will have to face our apathy with regret when we realize that these small battles, these insignificant little government sponsored celebrations, were the stepping stones to the destruction of the separation of church and state. The ominous cloud in the sky is not god's wrath approaching the unfaithful, but the blind irrationality that is going to erode the very fabric of our democracy.

  4. I am a Christian and have a deep faith and belief in God. I choose to follow His teachings as provided to me in the bible. I wasn't coerced to call Him my savior. It has been a journey of admiration and respect. 
    A proclamation assumes that I need to be told who I am and what I should be doing when in fact, I already know. A proclamation doesn't give me the opportunity to determine what I feel or think I need but forces my hand. 
    Laws are used to govern with consequence. When the President proclamates a day of prayer, he's telling the people he governs, that there is consequence to their inaction. Therefore, telling the people they should pray. 
    The people of this country have a proclamation already. It's called The United States Constitution. Todays' elected officials are having great difficulty with a document that was written over 235 years ago because it limits the power they want to acheive. A proclamation for a day of prayer is wrong and should be abolished.

  5. I've been tossing around how to express to my religious friends how much this bothers me. I came up with a new strategy today, saying we should have a 'National Day of No Prayer'. And we should publish the number of deaths and injuries from car crashes, and the number of cancer remissions, and a few other things people pray for. Then we can get some actual empirical evidence to the efficacy of prayer. And I end with, "then maybe we can find out what got us to the moon, good science education, or school prayer".

  6. Anonymous #2, thank you for your thoughtful reply. I only wish that there were more theists or Christians that thought as you do. Your reply is exactly what I think the Constitution embraces and promotes. Not the vision that the religious right is attempting to push.

  7. Thank you all for the comments. I appreciate the feedback and your thoughts. I agree with Larian about Anonymous number 2's comments. I take no issue with people of faith who understand that it is personal, and should remain personal. It is the people who feel that their idea of righteousness and morality is the only way and attempt to force it on the public. Thanks again for the comments folks!

  8. Thank you, Anonymous #2. I can only hope other believers adopt this viewpoint. Religion, faith, belief in a higher power...whatever you can it, are all personal, independent choices. It should be between an individual and his or her diety.

    As Americans, we are free to practice (or not, as in my case) a religious belief at home, in church, or in a field of daisies. We should not be instructed to pray because someone in government makes a proclamation. The NDP is a carry over from the cold war mentality of distancing our country from the Communist Party in Russia. I think it's deplorable that presidents still issue the proclamation. But if we keep it, I agree with the person who said we should also have a National Day of No Prayer.

    A.D. Ellis - great blog! Thank you for saying the things many secularists think.