Despite Controversy, National Day of Prayer's Legacy Continues

Ginny McCabe | Contributing Writer | Thursday, April 29, 2010

Despite Controversy, National Day of Prayer's Legacy Continues

April 30, 2010 

Now more than ever, many Christians believe there is much to pray about in America on May 6, the National Day of Prayer. At the same time they gather to pray, they will stand firm and remember the rich heritage of prayer in the United States. 

That feeling is especially strong after April 15, when Senior U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb's struck down the federal statute that sets a day for the National Day of Prayer. 

In a Twitter message sent shortly after Crabb's ruling, the Obama administration said it intends to recognize this year's National Day of Prayer on May 6, as it recognized the day in 2009. President Barack Obama has also said that his administration will appeal the ruling.

"I think what the judge has done is that she has brought the National Day of Prayer to the forefront. Nobody was talking about the National Day of Prayer until this judge said it's unconstitutional," said Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and international Christian relief organization Samaritan's Purse. Graham also serves as honorary chairman of this year's National Day of Prayer Task Force (NDPTF).

"Now all of the sudden, people are thinking about it, talking about it and they see this as another erosion of our religious freedoms. In some ways, I'm very grateful for the timing of this. I think what maybe the devil meant for harm, God's going to turn around and use it for good."

Shortly after Graham commented on Crabb's ruling, he found himself at the center of another National Day of Prayer uproar. On April 22, the buzz continued when Graham reported that the Army had withdrawn an invitation for him to appear at a special Pentagon prayer service. They allegedly rescinded because of previous remarks he made about Islam in 2001. 

After the slight, the NDPTF pulled out of the Pentagon event. The Army has reported that the event will still take place without the group's participation. 

"I regret that the Army felt it was necessary to rescind their invitation to the National Day of Prayer Task Force to participate in the Pentagon's special prayer service. I want to express my strong support for the United States military and all our troops. I will continue to pray that God will give them guidance, wisdom and protection as they serve this great country," said Graham in a statement on Monday.

On Sunday, President Obama visited famed evangelist Billy Graham at his North Carolina home, where they prayed together. Franklin Graham, the evangelist's son, was also present. During their meeting, Graham said the prayer invitation was brought up and President Obama said he would look into it.

More news swirled late on Monday as a Muslim civil liberties group urged Congress to disinvite Franklin Graham from attending the congressional National Day of Prayer event, which will be held May 6 on Capitol Hill. 

On Tuesday, National Day of Prayer Task Force (NDPTF) Chairman Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson, said, "Suggesting Mr. Graham should be removed from a National Day of Prayer event because of his religious opinions is absurd. No one understands better the need for prayer at this critical juncture in our nation's history. The son of Franklin and Jane Graham is currently serving our military efforts overseas on his fourth combat tour… Our nation's founders wouldn't have tolerated it, and neither should we."

Opposition to the ruling is widespread among evangelical Christians. 

"The National Day of Prayer provides an opportunity for all Americans to pray voluntarily according to their own faith," said Joel Oster, Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) senior counsel. "It does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and this decision should be appealed." 

Crabb's court order does not demand that the 59th National Day of Prayer be canceled, nor does it affect presidential prayer proclamations. The ruling will not go into effect unless the decision stands after all appeals in the case are exhausted. 

Michael Calhoun, director of Strategic Communications for the NDPTF, reflected upon Crabb's ruling by saying, "It was a surprise to us - as I'm sure it would've been to our founding fathers - the very men who signed the Constitution.  They were the ones who called for the first National Day of Prayer in 1775 as the Continental Congress took on the bold task of forming a new nation. The origins of the National Day of Prayer are intricately tied to the origins of our country itself - there is absolutely no constitutional reason to prohibit official recognition of the National Day of Prayer." 

In 1952, President Harry Truman signed into law a joint resolution of Congress to set aside an annual National Day of Prayer. Congress amended the law in 1988, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan for the purpose of establishing a more specific date. The first Thursday in May was designated as the annual National Day of Prayer and it was signed into law on May 8, 1988.

The current law states, "The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals." 

Vonette Bright, co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ and Women Today Radio and wife of the late Dr. Bill Bright, was present on the historic day when President Reagan signed the law in 1988. Bright currently serves as the National Day of Prayer Task Force co-chairman. In 1988, she served as the chair of the National Day of Prayer.

"Prayer was a crucial part of this project. We began to pray by name for the members of these committees, the Judiciary Committee in the Senate and the Committee on the Post Office and Civil Service in the House, chaired by Congressman Robert Garcia, who was a special friend of Tony Hall," said Vonette Bright, as she spoke to

Today, those who pray are urged to continue to pray for this country's leaders and to pray for them by name. Pray for President Obama, pray for Judge Barbara Crabb, for our military by name and so on.

 "We need to pray specifically," said Bright. "God says that we have not, because we ask not."

She continued by saying that prayer has been a critical component throughout America's history and that it will endure. "You cannot stop prayer," Bright said. "People are going to continue to pray for this nation."

"Prayer works," echoed Franklin Graham, when asked why he feels so convicted about the power of prayer. "I've seen it work time and time and time again. We live in the greatest nation in the world and we are losing the foundations that our nation was built on. The religious freedom and the religious heritage we have that made this nation the strongest nation in the world, we're losing it."

This year's National Day of Prayer is May 6. For more information about the National Day of Prayer, visit their website.