For these past six decades, a day designated by Congress and proclaimed each year by the president has been a time set aside when people are asked to “turn to God in prayer and meditation.”
A National Day of Prayer is a significant part of our nation’s history in that it goes back to a time before we were a nation. The Continental Congress offered a proclamation recommending that “a day of publick humiliation, fasting and prayer” be observed on July 20, 1775.
A day for a nation at prayer was supported by George Washington and carried on by such presidents as John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Harry S. Truman and Ronald Reagan. These presidents served at times when our nation was locked in great internal and external strife, and each of them expressed in his proclamations the need for prayer as our acknowledgement that God is in charge and we are dependent upon Him.
President Obama, in his National Day of Prayer proclamation May 1, wrote that since people arrived on these shores, “Americans have prayed as a means of uniting, guiding and healing. In times of hardship and tragedy, and in periods of peace and prosperity, prayer has provided reassurance, sustenance, and affirmation of common purpose.”
Of course to some, the government proclaiming a National Day of Prayer violates the so-called separation of church and state. While millions prayed Thursday, some were protesting the proclamation as unconstitutional – a violation of the First Amendment, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
And yes, there have been legal challenges.
More recently, such organizations as the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Americans for Separation of Church and State have taken the matter to the courts with the usual results – decisions, appeals, overturning of decisions and more appeals. To date “the jury is still out!”
Is the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional? Of course not! The proclamation recommends a National Day of Prayer. Nowhere in the proclamation is a religious group or denomination mentioned. Having said that, the 2013 National Day of Prayer Honorary Chairman is the Greg Laurie, a Christian pastor and somewhat of a controversial one at that. I’m not sure we need an honorary chairman, but in his prayer Laurie did ask God to “Send a mighty spiritual awakening that will turn the hearts of men and women, boys and girls back to you.” We all pray for that!
What seems to be overlooked by those protesting the National Day of Prayer or controversial honorary chairperson is the rest of the words in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
There’s the key – freedom! Freedom to protest the National Day of Prayer! Freedom to worship as we are called or not worship at all! Freedom to pray or not pray!
That’s the gift we receive as citizens of this great nation and as citizens of the Kingdom of God. God and prayer are the foundations of our nation and the hinge pins of our faith. Both give us free choice, an awesome and scary gift. In order to use it well we must have divine guidance, the source of which is prayer.
So, the first Thursday in May is the yearly National Day of Prayer. I submit that every day should be a National Day of Prayer.
THE REV. JOE BOWDEN IS ASSISTING PRIEST AT CHURCH OF THE HOLY COMFORTER IN MARTINEZ.