Congress established the very first National Day of Prayer on July 20, 1775. The war with England was in its infancy with the battles of Lexington and Concord barely in the history books. The original proclamation began:
“This Congress, therefore, considering the present critical, alarming and calamitous state of these colonies, do earnestly recommend that Thursday, the 20th day of July next, be observed by the inhabitants of all the English colonies on this continent, as a day of public humiliation, fasting and prayer; that we may, with united hearts and voices, unfeignedly confess and deplore our many sins; and offer up our joint supplication to the all-wise, omnipotent, and merciful Disposer of all events….”
The next proclamation when President John Adams declared May 9, 1798 as a “day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer,” with people of all faiths being encouraged to pray, “that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it.” The United States was locked in an undeclared naval war with France and fear gripped many American hearts as victory was in doubt.
On March 30, 1863, the United States was busy going about the business of tearing itself apart over slavery and states rights. President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that stated, “the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins.” The proclamation declared a day of “national humiliation, fasting and prayer,” hoping that God would restore, “our now divided and suffering country to its former happy condition of unity and peace.”
The current incarnation of the National Day of Prayer was approved by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman on April 17, 1952. The official proclamation called on the American people to, “turn to God in prayer and meditation.” In 1972, the National Day of Prayer Committee was created which soon gave birth to the National Day of Prayer Task Force. In 1988, a bill was introduced in Congress fixing the National Day of Prayer on the first Thursday of May. The bill passed and was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on May 5. Upon signing the bill, Reagan said, “On our National Day of Prayer, then, we join together as people of many faiths to petition God to show us His mercy and His love, to heal our weariness and uphold our hope, that we might live ever mindful of His justice and thankful for His blessing.”
The National Day of Prayer has a rich history and heritage. How sad it is in our politically correct age that we are no longer spiritually tolerant. The controversy generated by the Pentagon’s disinviting Franklin Graham and the entire National Day of Prayer Task Force is both un-American and unnecessary. Graham has expressed his opinion on the danger of embracing the teaching of Islam concerning jihad and the death of infidels. Not once has he or anyone on the National Day of Prayer Task Force suggested that Muslims be excluded from First Amendment protections against the prohibiting of the exercise of their religion.
The same First Amendment to the Constitution which prohibits Congress from making any law that establishes a particular religion or prohibits the free exercise thereof also protects Franklin Graham’s right of free speech to express his opinion about Islamic fundamentalism.
But in our politically correct age, the criticism of Christianity is welcomed while the truth claims of Christians are under constant fire. Muslim Clerics and Islamic fundamentalists can rail against Christianity without fear of reprisal. Yet Christians are often singled out as being bigoted, homophobic, hatemongers who are ruining our national hedonistic party.
Last month, a federal judge from Wisconsin struck down the National Day of Prayer, ruling that it violates the constitutional ban on government-backed religion. Judge Barbara B. Crabb called the statue “an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function.” Again, the First Amendment, while forbidding Congress from establishing any one religion forbids Congress from doing what Judge Crabb believes she has the right to do ... prohibit the free expression of religious convictions. Since the National Day of Prayer does not elevate one religion over another it does not violate the First Amendment. Joel Oster, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund said, “The National Day of Prayer provides an opportunity for all Americans to pray voluntarily according to their own faith and does not promote any particular religion or form of religious observance.”
Douglas Laycock, a University of Michigan Law School professor said, “Judges have never been absolutists in these establishment clause cases. If they were they would tell the president to stop issuing Thanksgiving proclamations and tell the Treasury Department to take In God We Trust off of our money.”
America is a country that recognizes the “freedom of” not “freedom from” religion. While we recognize and respect an individuals right to reject belief in God, the vast majority fervently defends the right to publically express belief in God. People can be free from religion if they choose but they cannot demand that those of us who believe should lay aside our beliefs so they can be free from religion.
We are a nation of over 300 million people. Fully ninety-two percent say they believe in God. Another eighty-five percent believe in heaven and eighty-two percent believe in miracles. The religion police will have to lock up over ninety-percent of the country if their crusade against free religious expression is successful.
[by Dr. Tony Beam, Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.]