Is the U.S. National Day of Prayer in the USA
inclusive or just for evangelical Christians?
Under Presidents Clinton, G.W. Bush, & Obama.
Activities by President Clinton (Term of office: 1993-JAN to 2001-JAN):
President Clinton issued proclamations for the NDP each year. However, he did not hold a prayer event in the White House as prior presidents often did. In his proclamation, President Clinton stressed the inclusiveness of the NDP.
In 1998, he referred to Public Law 100-307 as honoring: " ...the religious diversity our
freedom permits by recognizing annually a 'National Day of Prayer.' "
1999, President Clinton wrote:
"On the Great Plains, American Indians
prayed for peace and for blessings upon their children and their friends. The
Pilgrims prayed from the moment they first set foot on this continent. Our
Nation's founders prayed as they forged a democracy based on freedom and respect
for human rights. Our military leaders and the millions of men and women who
have served in our Armed Forces have prayed in the midst of every conflict in
which our Nation has fought. And so it continues to this day, as Americans of
every race, background, and creed pray in churches, mosques, synagogues,
temples, and their own homes for guidance, wisdom, and courage in confronting
the challenges before us." 2
President G.W. Bush (Term of office: 2001-JAN to 2009-JAN):
In his annual proclamations, President Bush continued the tradition of referring
to the NDP as an observance for persons of all
religions. But, like President Clinton, he seemed to imply that every American was a member or adherent of an organized religion.
In 2005, he wrote:
"Since our Nation's
earliest days, prayer has given strength and comfort to Americans of all
faiths....I ask the citizens of our Nation to give thanks, each according to his
or her own faith, for the liberty and blessings we have received and for God's
continued guidance and protection." 3
President Bush held annual NDP prayer events in the White House.
2009: President Obama issued an inclusive proclamation for the NDP. Subsequent criticism and praise:
While George W Bush was president, he issued annual NDP proclamations and organized NDP events in the East Room of the White House. However, President Obama reverted to President Clinton's style; he only issued a proclamation. This was probably driven by his concern over the separation of religion and government (a.k.a. Church and State).
President Obama mentioned in his proclamation that Americans have the freedom to choose whether to follow one of the many available religions and to decide whether or not to not practice prayer. He also referred to the Ethic of Reciprocity (a.k.a. the Golden Rule) which is common to all of the great world religions and to many secular philisophical systems. He wrote:
"On this day of unity and prayer, let us also honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. We celebrate their commitment to uphold our highest ideals, and we recognize that it is because of them that we continue to live in a Nation where people of all faiths can worship or not worship according to the dictates of their conscience. ... our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife; and to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. 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." 4
CNSnews.com, a conservative news source, complained that:
"In Lincoln’s proclamation, God is mentioned five times and emphasizes God’s dominion over the nation, the need for people to repent, and the divine nature of the Bible. ...
[whereas] Obama’s proclamation mentions God once ... and also refers to people who don’t believe in God, which is tied to a reference to the U.S. military. 5
The Interfaith Alliance "... celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge [religious and political] extremism." 6 Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy praised President Obama's 2009 proclamation:" 7
"President Obama did the right thing today by issuing a proclamation for the National Day of Prayer that is inclusive of all Americans. We must cherish the freedom in this country to pray or not to pray. The reality is that we don’t need our elected leaders to instruct us in the ways of religion just as we don’t need our religious leaders to tell us for whom to vote. However, if we are going to have such a day, I am glad to see that this president understands that it should be inclusive."
"Interfaith Alliance, along with Jews on First, sent a letter to the president in April calling for him to support an inclusive day of prayer and reject the exclusionist version supported by Shirley Dobson’s so-called National Day of Prayer Task Force."
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- NDP Proclamation, 1998, at: http://ndptexas.com/
- "A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America,"
1995-MAY-5, at: http://www.ndptf.org/
- George W. Bush, "National Day of Prayer, 2005: A Proclamation by the President of
the United States of America," 2005-MAY-03, at: http://ndptf.org/
- Barack Obama, NDP proclamation for 2009 at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/
- Penny Starr, "Obama’s National Day of Prayer Proclamation Mentions God Only Once," CNS News, 2009-MAY-07, at: http://www.cnsnews.com/
- "About Interfaith Alliace," Interfaith Alliance, at: http://www.interfaithalliance.org/
- "Interfaith Alliance Praises President’s National Day of Prayer Proclamation," Interfaith Alliance, 2009-MAY-07, at: http://www.interfaithalliance.org/
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