News & Events

Broadening the National Day of Prayer

This year the National Day of Prayer (NDP for short) will be observed on May 1st.  First, a little history… Congress created National Day of Prayer in 1952 so that the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.”  In 1988, President Reagan established the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer (Public Law 100-307).  Congress’ intent was to designate a day where all Americans can come together and pray according to their own beliefs.

So on May 1st, as in years prior, President Bush will commemorate the day with remarks at the White House and most, if not all, of the fifty governors will issue a proclamation officially declaring the day as the National Day of Prayer.  (Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura famously refused to issue an official proclamation 1999 through 2002, citing separation of church and state.) Communities across the country will acknowledge the day with local events by coming together, praying and giving thanks in churches, community centers and town squares.

The evangelical Christian community in particular, has embraced the NDP and will be coordinating many local events for Christians under the auspices of the National Day of Prayer Task Force.  While the National Day of Prayer Task Force sounds official, the Task Force is actually an independent non-profit organization that runs Christian-focused and led events.  Thousands of people will participate in Task Force events this year.

How should we observe an occasion like this?  Recent data from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 2008 shows that America at large is a religiously and culturally diverse nation, with 83% of Americans self-identifying as religious.  Yet, 44% of Americans have switched religious affiliations (including shifts among Protestant denominations) and over 16% percent of American adults report that they aren’t affiliated with any particular religion.  Regardless of which camp we fall into, we may also believe that government shouldn’t be mandating a day of prayer at all.  And on top of , so many of the 1000s of NDP events held across the country are organized by and aimed at Christians, thus excluding many who might want to participate.

What do you think?  Are you planning to organize or attend an NDP event?  Does your workplace recognize the NDP or hold any events for its employees?  Is the NDP something the government should be promoting?
For some other takes on the NDP, check out:

Proclamation, National Day of Prayer, President George W. Bush, 2008

The National Day of Prayer Task Force

Critics say Day of Prayer ‘hijacked’ by evangelicals, Adelle M. Banks, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, April 23, 2008