National Day of Prayer: Our country should continue its long tradition of public prayer Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler, editor   
Thursday, Apr. 29, 2010 -- 12:00 AM

Should we be offering public prayers for our country? Should there be events such as the National Day of Prayer?

These questions have come to the forefront because of a ruling issued on April 15 in Madison by U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb. She said that the federal law designating a National Day of Prayer violates the First Amendment prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion. Judge Crabb did postpone enforcement of her ruling until all appeals are exhausted.

editor's view by Mary C. Uhler

We here in Madison don’t have to guess who brought this challenge to the courts. It came from the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which charged that the National Day of Prayer violates the separation of church and state.

History of the National Day of Prayer

I did some research on the National Day of Prayer. It is an annual observance held on the first Thursday of May, inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation. It was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman.

The National Day of Prayer Task Force, which organizes and encourages participation in the day, is a privately funded organization (see  The task force represents a Judeo-Christian system of values, but, as the Web site indicates, “The National Day of Prayer belongs to all Americans. It is a day that transcends differences, bringing together citizens from all backgrounds.”

The National Day of Prayer encourages people to pray for our nation, regardless of current issues and positions. The day seeks to protect America’s constitutional freedoms to gather, worship, pray, and speak freely and to respect all people, regardless of denomination or creed.

Faith was important to our founders

Religious faith was very important to the founders of our country. In fact, many of them came to America in order to practice their faith freely. Public prayer and national days of prayer have a longstanding history in American tradition.

We can look to our first president, George Washington, for an example of public expression of faith. As things began to look hopeless at Valley Forge (fought from 1777 to 1778), Washington did something that inspired his men to persevere in the face of hardships.

“Washington, in full view of his troops, knelt in the snow to pray,” writes Janice Connell, author of Faith of Our Founding Father: The Spiritual Journey of George Washington (Hatherleigh Press). “He implored the blessings of God on his dedicated troops, men who carried the hopes and dreams of freedom in their hearts.” Their commander’s faith inspired the men to fight and win the battle.

What the First Amendment means

It is no surprise, therefore, that the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Since it went into effect on December 15, 1791, this amendment has been understood to protect freedom of religion (not freedom from religion). There are those who argue that atheism, too, is a form of religion (defined as a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe). Atheists — like those in the Freedom From Religion Foundation — are essentially seeking to impose their religion on the rest of the nation by seeking to eliminate the National Day of Prayer.

Continue the tradition

We should continue the longstanding tradition of public prayer in our country. No one is forced to pray on the National Day of Prayer. Those who choose to participate may pray in groups or as individuals. I don’t think prayer can hurt anyone, and it can only help to seek God’s guidance for our leaders and his grace upon our people.

As we observe the  59th National Day of Prayer on May 6, I encourage people to join more than two million people who are expected to pray at state capitols, at county court houses, and in schools, businesses, churches, and homes. Let us pray that God bless our nation, its leaders, and citizens — and even for a conversion of heart for the atheists who seek to impose their beliefs on the rest of us.