The National Day of Prayer in the USA (NDP)
Criticism of the evangelical Christian
domination of the NDP, by Americans United
Press Release by Americans United for Separation of Church and State:
Americans United issued the following text on 2008-APR-25. It notes the
tight connection between the federal government and the unofficial National Day
of Prayer Task Force. The title of the release is: "National Day Of Prayer Showcases Intolerant Religious Right Agenda, Says
Americans United." 1
Government Officials Should Not Promote Dobson Prayer Task Force Events,
Church-State Watchdog Group Says
Intolerant Religious Right groups are dominating observance of the National Day
of Prayer and government officials should refuse to lend them support, says
Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The congressionally mandated National Day of Prayer scheduled for May 1 this
year has been largely hijacked by the Religious Right and is being used as an
opportunity to promote a far-right religious-political agenda.
"In many cases, this event is more about politics than prayer," said the Rev.
Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "It’s just another excuse
for the Religious Right to attack church-state separation."
Many events around the country this year are being coordinated by the
Day of Prayer Task Force, a Colorado Springs-based Religious Right organization
run by Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family Chairman James C. Dobson.
The NDP Task Force’s Web site claims it is the "National Day of Prayer Official
Web Site," but, in fact, the group has no official status. The Task Force states
that its purposes is to "Foster unity within the Christian Church" and "Publicize and preserve America’s Christian heritage." Non-Christians are
usually prohibited from leading or speaking at NDP Task Force events.
The Dobsons require volunteer prayer coordinators to sign a fundamentalist
statement of faith that declares that "the Holy Bible is the
inerrant Word of
The Living God" and that "Jesus Christ is the Son of
God and the only One by which I can obtain salvation."
In addition, the NDP Task Force Web site promotes "Drive-Thru History," a
home-school curriculum produced by pseudo-historian David Barton that promotes
the idea that America was founded to be a "Christian nation." 2
Despite its sectarian character, the NDP Task Force often draws support from
elected officials. The Dobsons annually visit the White House for its NDP event,
and public officials attend NDP Task Force events held at the U.S. Capitol.
This year, President George W. Bush’s official National Day of Prayer
proclamation used the same theme as the Dobsons’ Task Force "Prayer! America’s
Strength & Shield." A large number of governors have also issued proclamations
adopting the NDP Task Force’s theme.
"The National Day of Prayer Task Force doesn’t even pretend to acknowledge
religious tolerance or our country’s great diversity," Lynn said. "It’s
time for the government to stop working with this group."
Lynn noted that leading Founders such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison
opposed government proclamations of days of prayer. They believed such events
constitute improper government intrusion into religious matters.
Jefferson, in a Jan. 23, 1808, letter to the Rev. Samuel Miller:
"I do not
believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to
direct its exercises, its discipline, or its doctrines; nor of the religious
societies that the general government should be invested with the power of
affecting any uniformity of time or matter among them."
"Fasting & prayer are religious exercises. The enjoining them
an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine
for itself the times for these exercises, & the objects proper for them,
according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be
safer than in their own hands, where the constitution has deposited it."
Madison, in his "Detached Memoranda," warned that governmental religious
proclamations "seem to imply and certainly nourish the erroneous idea of a
national religion." He warned that there would always be a tendency "to narrow
the recommendation to the standard of the predominant sect" and that partisan
political considerations would be likely to come into play.
"The last & not the least objection," observed Madison,
"is the liability of the
practice to a subserviency to political views; to the scandal of religion, as
well as the increase of party animosities."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C.
Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of
church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
This information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still valid today.
News release, 2008-APR-25, Americans United, 518 C Street NE, Washington, DC
20002. Telephone: (202) 466-3234. Fax: (202) 466-2587; Email:
email@example.com; web site:
"Drive-thru History America - Foundations of Character," at:
Originally posted: 2008-APR-25
Most recent update: 2008-APR-25