The National Day of Prayer in the U.S. (NDP)
Note about this menu and associated essays:
This is not an official site for the National Day of Prayer
(NDP). No such site exists. The NDP is simply a day recognized by the U.S.
Federal Government as a time when Americans who are affiliated with any
organized religion -- or none -- are urged to pray.
This is not an official site of the National Day of Prayer Task
Force, an Evangelical Christian non-profit group with close ties to the
fundamentalist Christian group Focus on the Family. They are one of
many non-governmental agencies that coordinate the organization of prayer events across the U.S. on the NDP.
This is unrelated to the New Democratic Party (NDP) -- a socialist political party in Canada that uses the same acronym.
This is part of the ReligiousTolerance.org
web site which supplies information about many aspects of religion to
Americans and Canadians, while promoting religious freedom and
religious tolerance. One aspect of religious freedom is the liberty to freely organize local NDP observances.
About the NDP:
The National Day of Prayer (NDP) exists on three very different levels that are often confused:
- The NDP itself is declared by a statute of Congress (Public Law 100-307) as a special day to be held yearly on the first Thursday in May. It is similar to other
special days, like Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, Memorial Day and
Veterans Day. The statute requires that the president issue a proclamation each year in advance of that date. The constitutionality of the NDP itself is not in question; free observance of that day is guaranteed by the free exersise clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, the constitutional status of both this law and of presidential proclamations is currently uncertain:
- On 2010-APR-15, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb in Wisconsin ruled that the government proclamation of the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional because such proclamation amounts to a call for religious action, 5 in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. She suspended her ruling pending an appeal. Contrary to the reporting in both the secular and conservative religious press, the NDP was not determined to be unconstitutional; only the public law and presidential proclamation were.
- During 2011-APR almost exactly one year later, the ruling of Federal District Judge Crabb was unanimously overturned on a technicality by a three judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. They did not rule on the constitutionality of the government proclamation of the NDP. Instead, they reversed the lower court's decision after finding that the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) -- the group that initiated the original lawsuit -- did not have standing to do so. 6
- The FFRF intends to appeal the panel's ruling to the full Court of Appeals. 7
- The National Day of Prayer Task Force is a group closely attached to Focus on the Family, a Colorado-based fundamentalist Christian group. The Task Force promotes evangelical-only observations of the DOP across the U.S. Because of the free exercise clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, they and any other private group is guaranteed the right to do do this. Even if the Congressional statute establishing the NDP is found to be unconstitutional, there is nothing to prevent the Task Force from continuing its annual organizational activities.
- Thousands of independent observations of the NDP are held across the country. Some are assemblies organized by evangelical Christians under the leadership of the Task Force. Others are more inclusive: some involve a variety of Christian denominations; some involve Christian leaders as well as representatives of a wide range of theistic religions, like Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, etc. These groups are also guaranteed the right to organize gatherings by the free exercise clause. Even if the Congressional statute were declared unconsitutional and the Task Force were disbanded, local groups would be free to continue observing the NDP each year.
Quotations illustrating different concepts of the National Day of Prayer:
||"On our National Day of Prayer,
then, we join together as people of many faiths to petition God to show us His mercy and
His love, to heal our weariness and uphold our hope, that we might live ever mindful of
His justice and thankful for His blessing." President Ronald
Reagan, 1988-MAY-5. (Emphasis ours)
||"The Congress... has called on our citizens to reaffirm the role
of prayer in our society and to honor the religious diversity our
freedom permits by recognizing annually a 'National Day of Prayer.' " President George W Bush, 2002-MAY-2. 1
||"As we observe this day of prayer, we remember the one law that binds all great religions together: the Golden Rule, and its call to love one another; to understand one another; and to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth." President Barack Obama, 2010-MAY-07. 2
||The NDP Task Force's "Application for Volunteer Event Coordinator" asks for:
||A personal testimony "How did you come to know Jesus as your
||The "local church or fellowship" that the applicant
||"Ministries" that the applicant has served in. 3
||"My people wouldn't come
to a meeting that is an inter-faith event." Pastor William
Keller, president of the Delaware County
Evangelistic Association, 2003-APR-13. He organized an exclusively
conservative Christian NDP event to be held on the same day in Muncie, IN
as an inclusive multi-faith NDP event. 4
- George W. Bush, "National Day of Prayer, 2002: A Proclamation," at:
- Barack Obama, "Presidential Proclamation National Day of Prayer," 2010-MAY-07, at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/
- "Application for Volunteer Event Coordinator," at:
http://www.nationaldayofprayer.org/ You may need software to read this PDF file. It can be obtained free from:
- Kieth Roysdon, "Day of prayer divides faiths," The Star
Press, 2003-APR-13, at:
- "Judge rules National Day of Prayer unconstitutional," USA Today, 2010-APR-16, at: http://www.usatoday.com/
- Brian Montopoli, "National Day of Prayer ruled constitutional," CBS News, 2011-APR-14, at: http://www.cbsnews.com/
- "FFRF to seek 'en banc' rehearing on National Day of Prayer ruling in 7th Circuit," Freedom From Religion Foundation, 2011-APR-14, at: http://ffrf.org/
Copyright © 1999 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 1999-MAY-5
Most recent update: 2013-APR-14
Author: B.A. Robinson