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The National Day of Prayer (NDP)

Some inclusive celebrations of the NDP

Muncie, IN, in 2003
Oklahoma City, OK, in 2005
Troy, MI in 2005

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The National Day of Prayer (NDP) was created by Congress so that Americans of all religions who believe in one or more deities can pray together in fellowship. However, most observances of the NDP are currently exclusively Evangelical Christian events coordinated by the National Day of Prayer Task Force. There are some indications that a reversal in this trend has started. There are increasing numbers of Inclusive NDP celebrations where people who are affiliated with any organized religion -- or none -- will be comfortable. The NDP may eventually evolve into a celebration of religious diversity rather than religious exclusivity.

The United States is generally recognized as being the most religiously diverse nation in the world. It religious diversity is increasing as public identification with the predominant religion, Christianity, continues to decline, and as religions ranging from Buddhism to Hinduism, Islam, Wicca. and NOTA (None Of The Above) continue their rapid growth. Holding NDP events which are inclusive of all religions may go a long way towards promoting interfaith understanding, and thus help the U.S. continue to avoid the type of inter-religious violence seen in so may places worldwide.

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Organizing an inclusive NDP event:

There is almost complete freedom of speech and assembly in the U.S. If any group wants to celebrate the NDP from an non-Evangelical perspective, they are entirely free to organize their own group separate from the National Day of Prayer Task Force. This has been done in a number of cities. For example, the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) organized an inclusive NDP event on 2005-MAY-05 at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. It involved representatives and attendees from a variety of religious groups -- Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Neopagan -- as well as from non-theistic communities. Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of AUSCS and a United Church of Christ minister, spoke at the event. In a press release the day before, he said: "The National Day of Prayer has become an excuse for the Religious Right to practice exclusion and peddle bad history. We want to offer an alternative....The Dobsons are essentially telling people of other faith traditions that they are not welcome and to take a hike. I want all of them to know they should hike on over to our event, where they will be welcomed and encouraged to take part....Americans United's event is about inclusion, not exclusion. It's a different celebration that honors the Constitution and celebrates our diversity." 4

Lynn's reference to "The Dobsons" apparently refers to:

bullet James Dobson, founder and head of Focus on the Family. This is regarded by some as the most influential Fundamentalist Christian para-church organization in the U.S., and
bullet His wife, Shirley Dobson, president of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. 5  

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Potential for conflict:

Organizing a NDP event is greatly simplified if everyone in town agrees that the NDP event will be either:

bullet An inclusive, multi-faith celebration involving Buddhists, Roman Catholics, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Neopagans, New Agers, Protestants, those of no specific religious affiliations, etc. or
bullet An ecumenical Christian celebration involving conservative, mainline, liberal, Orthodox and Roman Catholic denominations, or
bullet An exclusively Evangelical Christian celebration, or
bullet Some other exclusive event for followers of only one wing of a specific religion, like the Gardnerian tradition of Wicca.

However, if different groups have competing concepts of what a local NDP observance should look like, things get more complex:

bullet It is unlikely that followers of non-Christian religions will feel comfortable at a purely Evangelical Christian prayer meeting which allows only conservative Christians to speak and conservative Christian prayers to be recited.
bullet Evangelical Christians may feel uncomfortable attending an inclusive meeting with representatives of various other religions present and participating. Some Evangelicals prefer to minimize contact with other religions, except during efforts at proselytizing. Some conservative denominations regard other religions as controlled by and/or worshipping Satan. As Pastor William Keller, president of the Delaware County Evangelistic Association in Muncie IN said prior to the 2003 NDP: "My people wouldn't come to a meeting that is an inter-faith event." 1

The only solution may be two or more NDP events in the same municipality. This is unfortunate, but is an accurate reflection of the divisions in religious belief throughout the U.S. This division is also seen in local ministerial associations. Often one city will have one group for Evangelical pastors, one for mainline and liberal Christian ministers and one for Roman Catholic priests.

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A 2005 example: Troy, MI

During 2005, NDP organizers for the 2005 event in Troy, MI, ran into difficulty. The Troy National Day of Prayer Christian Task Force, an Evangelical Christian group, asked the city for permission to hold an event at the Troy city hall. It was to feature only conservative Christian speakers and prayers. But some non-Evangelicals protested; they felt that many faiths should be represented at the event. The Troy City Council reached a compromise. They gave permission for the interfaith group -- including Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus -- to meet from 11 AM until noon at city hall. The exclusively Evangelical Christian group was given the noon until 1 PM time slot at the same location. Richard A. Peacock of Troy First United Methodist Church, who represented the interfaith group, said: "We'll make sure we work it out. And we're inviting everyone to join us." 7 Lori Wagner of the National Day of Prayer Task Force indicated that persons of all faiths were welcome at her service; however the meeting would be Evangelical Christian in content. She said: "We organize our speakers who are in alignment with our faith."

To avoid future conflict, on APR-04, Troy's City Council selected three sites for public gatherings, and authorized the city's recreation department to issue permits on a first-come first-served basis. Rabbi Arnie Sleutelberg of Congregation Shir Tikvah in Troy was one of the leaders in the interfaith service. He said: "I just hope the people who clamored for this know that groups like the pro-choice, homosexuals, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members -- anybody who wants to -- can secure a site now." Mayor Louise Schilling is disappointed in the way the controversy has divided the community. She said: "That day should be about bringing the different religious groups together in unity, not in tearing them apart." 3

Associated Press commented that "It was a day of separation for different religious groups in the Detroit suburb of Troy. [On MAY-08] ...about 250 people participated in a Christians-only prayer session in front of Troy City Hall. A similar number of Christians and members of other faiths attended the Troy Interfaith Group service at Northminster Presbyterian Church. Mayor Louise Schilling attended the interfaith event, which also included Buddhists, Jews and Muslims. The prayer day services followed months of controversy over the Christian group's plan to exclude non-Christians." 6

The National Day of Prayer continued to divide the City of Troy, weeks after the event. Shortly after the Day, the Troy Committee to Protect Free Speech was formed with Wendee Rex as president. The purpose of the committee appears to be to organize a recall of Troy Mayor Louise Schilling and Mayor Pro Tem Robin Beltramini because of the way in which they opposed the Evangelical Christian-only Day of Prayer event in favor of one that included persons of many religions. Rex identified herself as a Christian but declined to identify her church or say how many people are on the committee. She said: "It is because of their open hostility to Troy citizens exercising their Constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of assembly and equal access on city property in front of City Hall." 7

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A 2003 example: Muncie, IN:

At first, organizers in Muncie, IN tried to arrange an multi-faith event. But their efforts did not succeed. A conflict emerged.  Pastor William Keller, president of the Delaware County Evangelistic Association, and others, conceived of the event as exclusively conservative Christian. Thomas Perchlik, a Unitarian Universalist minister, and others promoted a multi-faith meeting involving individuals and prayers from many Christian denominations -- conservative, mainline and liberal -- and from many other religions. Perchlik said "We had five meetings with Mr. Keller and it wasn't until late that we realized" that the minister did not want to include non-Christian prayers in the program. Perchlik continued: "We said we wanted Jews and Muslims to participate and share their prayers. It wasn't until we brought a Jewish man to the meeting when [Keller] started to protest that he wouldn't allow Jewish prayer....Mr. Keller said, 'My people wouldn't come to a meeting that is an inter-faith event'...He has a vision of the purpose of the National Day of Prayer. He's always willing to say Jews and Muslims are welcome, but when it got down to the details of how that would work, it wouldn't fit his vision."

Pastor William Keller said: "We're praying in the name of the Father Creator, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They have other gods to pray to." He described his event, scheduled at city Hall at noon on 2003-MAY-1, as a: "...Christian gathering. We do not limit this meeting only to Christians. It's open to anyone who wants to come along. It's the presentations they wanted to have a part in. We were not comfortable with that - praying to Allah at the same time we're praying to Jesus - and they understood that. We couldn't see how we could diversify that. And for me, I had no expertise in providing that kind of service. We're not excluding anybody, if they want to come our way." Keller continued: "I'm glad they're planning their service. I wouldn't know how to provide leadership for that, but I do know how to vocalize the Christian prayer. We said, 'You can have your interfaith, but let us have our Christian service,'  We're not trying to hurt anybody and don't want anybody to hurt us."

Perchlik said: "We're all part of this country and this city, and all of us are unified in our desire for this country and city to be blessed....We decided to create a second, equal event." Congregations from the Unitarian Universalist Church, Temple Beth-El, the Muncie Islamic Center, as well as Lutheran, Quaker and Baptist churches participated in the second inter-faith service, to be held at the same location later in the day. Mayor Dan Canan will speak at both events; he said "I respect the fact there will be two separate events. It would have been nice if there had been a way to combine the two, but I don't think there's any harm done in having two separate events. I will participate in both events." 1

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Another 2005 example: Oklahoma City, OK:

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) state on their web site:

"For too long, the National Day of Prayer has been held captive by the Religious Right. This year, Americans United for Separation of Church and State is planning a rescue.

"Let Freedom Ring: A Celebration of Freedom of Conscience," an event sponsored by the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United, will be open to Americans of all faiths - as well as those who don't pray.

"America is a nation with rich diversity, and we want to celebrate that fact," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, who will be in Oklahoma City to speak at the event. "The National Day of Prayer has become an excuse for the Religious Right to practice exclusion and peddle bad history. We want to offer an alternative."

The Oklahoma event, which is being cosponsored by Mainstream Baptists of Oklahoma and the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma, will take place on the South Steps of the State Capitol in Oklahoma City on May 5 at 11 a.m.

AU's Lynn is a United Church of Christ minister. Speakers from the Jewish, Islamic, Pagan and non-theistic communities will also participate......

Lynn said Americans United hopes to export the Oklahoma City model to other communities. 2

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Sponsored link:

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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. Kieth Roysdon, "Day of prayer divides faiths," The Star Press, 2003-APR-13, at:
  2. "Americans United Plans Oklahoma City Event To 'Let Freedom Ring' On National Day Of Prayer
    Inclusive Event Celebrates Freedom Of Conscience, Welcomes All Faiths And Philosophical Traditions,
    " Americans United, 2005-MAY-04, at:
  3. Shawn D. Lewis, "Day of Prayer at Troy City Hall divides religious groups. Interfaith group decides to go elsewhere after Christians protest their inclusion in event," The Detroit News, 2005-APR-06, at:
  4. "Americans United Plans Oklahoma City Event To 'Let Freedom Ring' On National Day Of Prayer
    Wednesday, May 4, 2005. Inclusive Event Celebrates Freedom Of Conscience, Welcomes All Faiths And Philosophical Traditions,
    " Americans United, 2005-MAY-04, at:
  5. "The National Day of Prayer Task Force: Turning a day of faith into a rally for the Christian Right," Texas Freedom Network Educational Fund, 2005, at: **
  6. "Troy religious divided on Prayer Day," WOOD-TV, 2005-MAY-10, at:
  7. Shawn D. Lewis, "Troy prayer day stirs recall effort. Mayor and mayor pro-tem targeted for role in creating more inclusive prayer event," The Detroit News, 2005-MAY-23, at:

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Copyright 2003 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2003-APR-14
Most recent update: 2005-JUN-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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