Brief history of the unconstitutional National Day of Prayer

Evangelical Christians hijacked the constitution

The National Day of Prayer is a federal statute, Public Law 82-324,  passed in 1952 at the direct suggestion of Rev. Billy Graham. Its purpose, as explained by Graham, was to help bring “the Lord Jesus Christ” to the nation (“What a thrilling, glorious thing it would be to see the leaders of our country kneeling before almighty God in prayer.”) U.S. Sen. Absalom Robertson, father of Rev. Pat Robertson, introduced the bill in the Senate, saying it was a measure against “the corrosive forces of communism which seek simultaneously to destroy our democratic way of life and the faith in an Almighty God on which it is based.”

The Senate report further claimed:

“Prayer has indeed been a vital force in the growth and development of this Nation. It would certainly be appropriate if, pursuant to this resolution, and the proclamation it urges, the people of this country were to unite in a day of prayer each year, each in accordance with his own religious faith, thus reaffirming in a dramatic manner the deep religious conviction which has prevailed throughout the history of the United States.”

The Senate report over the National Day of Prayer reveals that the National Day of Prayer law is based on bad history: The revisionist myth that the founders of our secular Constitution prayed during the Constitutional Convention. Prayer was indeed suggested, but the proposal, floated by Benjamin Franklin, was not adopted. Instead, the convention adjourned for the day. Our founders went on to adopt a godless and entirely secular Constitution, whose only references to religion in government are exclusionary.

The law specified that: “The President shall set aside and proclaim a suitable day each year, other than a Sunday, as a National Day of Prayer, on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.”

As FFRF showed in submitting evidence in its federal lawsuit, the religious right was likewise responsible for the second law relating to the National Day of Prayer. Congress, in 1988, turned the floating date into a fixed date, designating the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer. The impetus for the change came from Vonette Bright, co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ and the National Day of Prayer Committee, who lobbied Congress for the alteration, so that we “have a day in this country where we cover this nation in prayer and the leaders.” Rep. Tony Hall, the bill’s sponsor, noted that the purpose of amending the law was to “bring more certainty to the scheduling of events related to the National Day of Prayer and permit more effective long-range planning.” Pat Boone, co-chair of the National Prayer Committee, said the floating date “offered little advance notice to adequately inform the grassroots constituencies.” In introducing the bill in the Senate, Strom Thurmond noted the difficulties “for religious groups to give advance notice,” and how “maximum participation” would be achieved if it “were established as a specific, annual, calendar day.” Sen. Jess Helms endorsed the bill so it would provide “certainty” to “the Nation and its leaders” and help America “reclaim her religious heritage,” so “that God in heaven will hear and forgive our sins and heal our land.”

Since 1989, the National Day of Prayer Task Force, housed in Focus on the Family’s headquarters, has written presidential proclamations with a yearly theme and scripture verse. Presidents, governors and other public officials have often used the National Day of Prayer Task Force wording or themes. The evangelical Christian group exists to mobilize the “Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership in the seven centers of power: Government, Military, Media, Business, Education, Church and Family.” Its chairperson, Shirley Dobson, has spoken at eight White House prayer services on the National Day of Prayer. It organizes between 30,000 to 40,000 prayer gatherings across the country for that date, which was “specifically limited to the Judeo-Christian heritage and those who share that conviction as expressed in the Lausanne Covenant” (such as that the bible is “the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms” and that “there is only one Savior and only one gospel”).

Coordinators, volunteers and speakers at task force events must share these views to participate. Many divisive incidents have occurred because of the exclusion of Jews, Muslims or other Christians from these events. The task force’s stated goal is to pressure all 50 governors to likewise issue a National Day of Prayer proclamation, as well as mayors, county executives and sheriffs.

At least a quarter of the presidential proclamations have repeated the lie that our founders prayed at the constitutional convention adopting the secular Constitution. Many presidential proclamations have invoked other myths, such as that George Washington knelt in prayer in the snow in Valley Forge. All presidential proclamations have instructed “all Americans” to observe a National Day of Prayer. All presidential proclamations have instructed citizens not only to pray and to set aside a day to pray, but have told them what to pray about.

The task force and evangelicals not only hijacked the National Day of Prayer, they hijacked the Constitution.

Freedom From Religion Foundation