News & Events

National Day of Prayer Ruled Unconstitutional

Last week, a federal district court judge in Wisconsin ruled that the National Day of Prayer, first established in 1952, is unconstitutional.

Congress formally created a National Day of Prayer (NDP) so “the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.” Its intent was to honor the U.S. history of public prayer by designating a day during which Americans could choose to come together and pray according to their own belief systems.
In 1988, President Reagan signed the 1952 resolution into law, amending the original resolution to name the first Thursday in May as the NDP. Every year since, the sitting U.S. President, regardless of party or denomination, issues an official proclamation. State governors issue similar proclamations.
During President George W. Bush’s tenure, the Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged the NDP, in a case that rolled over into one against the Obama administration. That case came to an end on April 15th.
“[The National Day of Prayer] goes beyond mere ‘acknowledgment’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context,” wrote U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb in her opinion. “In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.”
The President’s office has already said that it still plans to issue a proclamation on the NDP, while the American Center for Law and Justice (which represented a group of Congresspeople who joined the President in defending the suit) has promised to appeal (the Department of Justice, which represented the administration, is still reviewing the decision).
“It is unfortunate that this court failed to understand that a day set aside for prayer for the country represents a time-honored tradition that embraces the First Amendment, not violates it,” said Center for Law and Justice Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow.
What do you think either about the NDP or about this decision? Does the NDP represent a “time honored tradition,” or a government intrusion into a personal, private practice?
Either way, we can look forward to another year in which the President issues his proclamation, and where the NDP Task Force (a non-governmental body) plans observances across the nation.
The NDP falls this year on Thursday, May 6th.