“America’s founders participated in public prayer activities; public officials today should be able to do the same,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “Local observances of the National Day of Prayer are constitutional and appropriate, particularly since the event simply provides all Americans an opportunity to pray voluntarily according to their own faith–and does not promote any particular religion or form of religious observance.”
“In 1952, President Harry Truman signed into law a joint resolution by Congress to ‘set aside an appropriate day as a National Day of Prayer,’” the ADF letter to governors states. “In 1988, the law was amended by Congress and signed by President Ronald Reagan to specify that the annual event should be observed on ‘the first Thursday in May in each year.’” Yet atheists and activist groups have challenged the constitutionality of government entities to recognize the event, claiming their acknowledgement violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
“You can be confident that your participation in and acknowledgement of the National Day of Prayer are constitutionally protected activities,” ADF attorneys explain in the letter. “You are free to proclaim your support for this event, and you are under no obligation to satisfy the demands of any disgruntled individual or civil libertarian group that may oppose such action.”
From the time of this nation’s founding, public prayer has been an essential part of America’s culture and tradition. The tradition of designating an official day of prayer actually began with the Continental Congress in 1775, and on October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued a National Day of Thanksgiving Proclamation. Ever since, American presidents have made similar proclamations and “appeals to the Almighty.” ADF attorneys contend that proclamations and appeals of state and local officials are no different. Historically, all 50 governors, along with U.S. presidents, have issued proclamations in honor of the National Day of Prayer.
ADF attorneys note that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly acknowledged that presidential proclamations of thanksgiving and prayer, including the NDOP, are part of our heritage, and in no way violate the Constitution.
“A decision last year [in the lawsuit Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin] does nothing to change this law,” ADF attorneys assured in the letter. “The judge determined that the President of the United States is not prohibited from issuing a proclamation declaring a National Day of Prayer. She did hold that a federal law instructing the President to do so on a particular day is unconstitutional, but she stayed enforcement of her ruling till the matter could be appealed. That case is currently pending before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.”
- Pronunciation guide: Theriot (TARE’-ee-oh)