Inclusive Prayer Day

People of Many Faith Traditions Calling For an Inclusive National Day of Prayer

We are Calling for an Inclusive National Day of Prayer

Again this year JewsOnFirst.org, the parent organization of the campaign for an Inclusive National Day of Prayer, and the Interfaith Alliance have written to President Barack Obama, asking him for an inclusive declaration of the National Day of Prayer, which, this year, falls on May 6th. Our letter specifically asks the president not to issue a separate proclamation for the exclusivist National Day of Prayer Task Force, a group linked to Focus on the Family that has hijacked the annual observance.

"We are compelled to make this request," our letter says, "because in past years the National Day of Prayer was taken over by a group of religious exclusivists led by Shirley Dobson of Focus on the Family. In past years Mrs. Dobson's group, the National Day of Prayer Task Force has represented itself in a way that led many to believe that they were the government sanctioned National Day of Prayer organizers. In fact, they clearly represent only certain evangelical Christians." The Dobson group limits participation in its events to fundamentalist Christians. To read our letter to President Obama, please click here.

Our 2009 campaign concluded with President Barack Obama's inclusive proclamation for the National Day of Prayer. JewsOnFirst.org, welcomed President Obama's open-hearted proclamation with its focus on unity for the benefit of our nation. Please click here to read President Obama's 2009 statement and a responding statement from the Interfaith Alliance. We believe a similar presidential statement on May 6, 2010 will affirm our tradition of religious liberty church-state separation.

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Judge rules National Day of Prayer Unconstitutional.

A federal judge in Wisconsin has ruled that the congressionally mandated National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional because it involves a government endorsement of religion. In her ruling, issued on April 15th in a lawsuit against President Barack Obama and the National Day of Prayer Task Force, headed by Shirley Dobson, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara B. Crabb wrote that the law establishing the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer "does not use prayer to further a secular purpose; it endorses prayer for its own sake."

Crabb's ruling (in the unlikely event that it is not appealed) will end the annual presidential proclamations of the national day required by the law. Under previous presidents, Dobson's Task Force used those proclamations to enhance the perception that the Task Force was an official government operation. As JewsOnFirst.org's campaign for an Inclusive National Day of Prayer has documented, Dobson's Task Force explicitly limits participation in its events to certain evangelical Christians. Judge Crabb dismissed the case against Dobson in March, but the transcript of Dobson's deposition, provide a detailed description of the Task Force's practices, most notably its use of public officials and government buildings for its events.

In her ruling, Judge Crabb noted that "much of the controversy" over the National Day of Prayer "has been generated by events of private organizations such as the National Day of Prayer Task Force. However," continued Judge Crabb, "government officials, including former Presidents, have sometimes aligned themselves so closely with those exclusionary groups that it becomes difficult to tell the difference between the government's message and that of the private group."

In a brief, Justice Department lawyers defending President Obama (and the day of prayer statute) against the lawsuit, brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, distinguished Obama's handling of the day from his predecessors. They noted that last year the president had declined to quote the Task Force's "theme" in his proclamation, despite the Task Force's request that he do so. Last year JewsOnFirst joined the Interfaith Alliance in asking President Obama to issue a single proclamation that was inclusive and not delivered directly to the Task Force. The President issued a single, inclusive proclamation that was not posted until the afternoon of May 7th. "Accordingly," states the brief, "President Obama's proclamation was not used at all during the Cannon House Office Building ceremony, by the NDP Task Force's coordinators."

The National Day of Prayer has been hijacked! What began in 1952 as President Truman's declaration of a National Prayer Day for all Americans is now excluding and dividing us on religious lines. The "Task Force" excludes Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics and even mainline Christians from participation in the events it coordinates around the country. Many of those events are staged in government venues with elected officials, in a deliberate affront to the separation of church and state.

Our Inclusive National Prayer Day project works with religious, civil rights and social justice activists in many states to lobby elected officials to refrain from proclaiming or endorsing the National Day of Prayer in ways that enhance the Task Force's exclusive control of the day and its efforts to create the appearance of government-sponsored religious ceremonies. We also work to educate the public about the Task Force's religious discrimination.

We have posted a sample letter that you can send your elected officials, requesting that they not issue special proclamations or give special treatment to the Task Force.

As they did last year, groups working with the Campaign for an Inclusive National Day of Prayer will call on elected officials to insure that clergy representing Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and other faith traditions be included in all observances staged on public property. Some groups held their own inclusive events. You can read about those events here. And you can see news coverage of previous years' campaigns here: 2008; 2009.

We have compiled talking points and documentation about the National Day of Prayer Task Force. Please click here. You will find a model letter to send elected officials here.