This Thursday, May 3, is the 67th Annual National Day of Prayer. The theme this year is “Love One Another,” which couldn’t be a better one when it comes to praying for others.
The National Day of Prayer has been an annual observance since 1952, inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation and world. It was created by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, signed into law by President Harry S. Truman, and annually observed by presidents ever since on the first Thursday of May. Its approval flew through the Congress almost seven decades ago as a way to help separate America as a country with a godly heritage and to aid her success against atheistic communism. (In 1956, the motto “In God We Trust” was also universally printed on all U.S. currency for the same basic reasons.)
Despite that the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of state legislatures to open their sessions with prayer in the case of Marsh vs. Chambers (1983), critics try to oppose the National Day of Prayer’s constitutionality by saying it didn’t exist prior to 1952 as a national observance. But all one must do is go back to the founders and framers of the Constitution to understand that, whether one looks at Creator-language in such pivotal documents as the Declaration of Independence or the role religion played in establishing ethics and morality even in political arenas, not one justice or government official back then would oppose a national day of prayer. In fact, they would be advocates for it.
The NDP website explained, “The National Day of Prayer is a vital part of our heritage. Since the first call to prayer in 1775, when the Continental Congress asked the colonies to pray for wisdom in forming a nation, the call to prayer has continued through our history. …”
Recently I read another excellent article by historian David Barton at the Wallbuilders website, titled, “Founding Fathers on Prayer.” In it, Barton details many of our founders’ ponderings and passions about prayer. Let me give you a small sample.
In 1789, after being urged by Congress on the same day they finished drafting the First Amendment, President Washington issued a thanksgiving proclamation stating, “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”
President John Adams declared that America’s independence “ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”
Benjamin Franklin was particularly eloquent on the power of prayer in government, as he addressed those who attended the Constitutional Convention:
In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard; and they were graciously answered. All of us, who were engaged in the struggle, must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need its assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, That God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, sir, in the Sacred Writings, that “except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. … I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business.
Franklin’s question still needs to ring from the corridors of Congress to the halls of our public schools and homes: “And have we now forgotten that powerful friend?”
James Madison, the so-called father of the Bill of Rights as the drafter of the ratified ten amendments, agreed: “It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in [America’s founding] a finger of that Almighty Hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the Revolution.”
Even Thomas Jefferson, who is often pitched by progressives as the secularist among the founders, said in 1808 near the end of his second term as president: “Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and right can never be safer than in their hands, where the Constitution has deposited it.”
(To understand more about our founders’ views on everything – especially their often-overlooked or misunderstood religious views and practices – and to keep up to date on current trends and culture wars, I highly encourage you to check out the resources at Wallbuilders. In addition, listen regularly to Wallbuilders Live, an excellent historical and political commentary show hosted by former Texas State Representative and constitutional expert and educator Rick Green and historian David Barton, who interview great patriots and culture warriors every week.)
The NDP website gives these “fun facts” about prayer and politics:
- There have been 146 national calls to prayer, humiliation, fasting and thanksgiving by the president of the United States (1789-2017).
- There have been 69 presidential proclamations for a National Day of Prayer (1952-2017). Gerald R. Ford (1976), George H. Bush (1989-91), Barack H. Obama (2012), and Donald J. Trump (2017) are the only U.S. presidents to sign multiple National Day of Prayer Proclamations in the same year.
- Every president since 1952 has signed a National Day of Prayer proclamation.
- Thirty-five of the 45 U.S. presidents have signed proclamations for National Prayer. Three of the presidents who did not sign a proclamation died while serving in office. Two presidents, not included in the count – William Howard Taft and Warren Gamaliel Harding – signed Proclamations for Thanksgiving and Prayer.
- Records indicate there have been 1,526 state and federal calls for national prayer since 1775 and counting.
The NDP website added, “In 1988, the law [for a national day of prayer] was amended and signed by President Reagan, permanently setting the day as the first Thursday of every May. Each year, the president signs a proclamation, encouraging all Americans to pray on this day. Last year, all 50 state governors plus the governors of several U.S. territories signed similar proclamations.”
The NDP website also explained the significance of this Thursday this way:
The National Day of Prayer has great significance for us as a nation as it enables us to recall and to teach the way in which our founding fathers sought the wisdom of God when faced with critical decisions. It stands as a call for us to humbly come before God, seeking His guidance for our leaders and His grace upon us as a people. The unanimous passage of the bill establishing the National Day of Prayer as an annual event, signifies that prayer is as important to our nation today as it was in the beginning.
Like Thanksgiving or Christmas, [the National Day of Prayer] has become a national observance placed on all Hallmark calendars and observed annually across the nation and in Washington, D.C. Every year, local, state, and federal observances were held from sunrise in Maine to sunset in Hawaii, uniting Americans from all socio-economic, political and ethnic backgrounds in prayer for our nation. It is estimated that over two million people attended more than 30,000 observances – organized by approximately 40,000 volunteers. At state capitols, county court houses, on the steps of city halls, and in schools, businesses, churches and homes, people stopped their activities and gathered for prayer.
For all the above reasons, I urge every American to locate and join a group in your local community on this National Day of Prayer, and bow your head in prayer with millions across the country, beseeching God to protect, forgive and heal our land, as well as submit us to His rule and reign as our founders did. You can find a local NDP event in your area here. Also, click here for NDP promotional tools or to livestream the National Observance in Washington, D.C.
Again in the words of President George Washington, let us remind everyone we know with our words and actions: “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”