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The National Day of Prayer in the USA

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Is it inclusive -- for people of all faiths?,
or is it just for evangelical Christians?

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Background:

A bill proclaiming an annual National Day of Prayer (NDP) was unanimously passed by both Houses of Congress during 1952, and signed into law by President Truman. The law encouraged It sets aside one day each year as a time to urge Americans to pray and meditate. At that time, the vast majority of Americans who were affiliated with a religion were either Christians or Jews.

In 1988, a second law was passed establishing the date for the NDP at the first Thursday in May. This is an unfortunate choice of date, since it can conflict with the Hispanic celebration Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for "fifth of May") -- as it did during 2011.

A review of Diana Eck's book "A New Religious America." says:

" 'The United States is the most religiously diverse nation in the world,' ... The Immigration Act of 1965 eliminated the quotas linking immigration to national origins. Since then, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians, and new varieties of Jews and Catholics have arrived from every part of the globe, radically altering the religious landscape of the United States. Members of the world's religions live not just on the other side of the world but in our neighborhoods; Hindu children go to school with Jewish children; Muslims, Buddhists, and Sikhs work side-by-side with Protestants and Catholics." 1

Another review states:

"America has always been a fundamentally Christian or 'Judeo-Christian' country with a few atheists and agnostics included. We're a secular, pluralist polity within that framework or so the received opinion goes. But in this wide-ranging book, Eck (religious studies, Harvard) shows us that this received opinion is erroneous. The framework is now, and in fact has always been, much broader. Eck discusses the history in America of three religious traditions with large numbers of adherents: Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Islam, she shows, arrived with African slaves. Buddhism and Hinduism came early as well, with the first Asian immigrants to the West Coast. These faiths are growing rapidly because of recent changes in our immigration laws and political turmoil in much of Asia, and thus our sense of religious pluralism needs to broaden. Well written and thorough, this volume will appeal especially to scholars, but casual readers will find much to enlighten them. Warmly recommended for both academic and public libraries." 2 James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, VA. Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

A second trend that is increasing religious diversity in the U.S. is the gradual reduction of the percentage of American adults who identify with the Christian religion and a corresponding increase in the percentage of Agnostics, Atheists, secularists, and other adults with no religious affiliation. This shift is particularly noticeable among older teens and young adults.

The law was intended to be inclusive of all Americans. But today, it encompasses a much wider diversity of religions and spiritual practices than when it was enacted six decades ago.

However, in practice, NDP events around the nation are largely organized by and for fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians. There are efforts to make the observance more inclusive of other Christian faith groups and of other religions.

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Topics covered in this section:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Diane Eck, "A new religious America," The Pluralism Project, Harvard University, at: http://pluralism.org/

  2. Diane Eck, "A New Religious America: How a 'Christian Country' Has Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation," HarperOne, (2002). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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Site navigation:

Home > Christianity > Christian history, etc > Prayer > NDP > here

Home > Christianity > History, beliefs... > Practices > Prayer > NDP > here

or Home > Spiritual topics > NDP > here

or Home > Religious information > NDP > here

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Copyright 1999 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 1999-MAY-05
Most recent update: 2011-MAY-08
Author: B.A. Robinson
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