National Observance: A Day Of Prayer (And Controversy)

THURSDAY, MAY 6: If you’re involved in a National Day of Prayer event this year—either as a participant or an opponent of the annual practice—then the name “Barbara Crabb” is one you’ll need to know this year. That’s the name of the federal judge in Wisconsin who recently ruled that a government-designated day of prayer is unconstitutional. Crabb has sparked headlines nationwide. (Read a USAToday article here. Or, read a longer Atlantic magazine analysis by Wendy Kaminer here. And, here’s a new Associated Press profile of the judge.)

If you’re going to such an event, don’t worry. No one is going to be arrested. Crabb did not even try to issue an injunction stopping such events. She knows her ruling will be debated through the court system. But her ruling is expected to fuel some especially spirited evangelical prayer events this year. If you’re uneasy with the usual evangelical tone of the officially sanctioned National Day of Prayer events, then you’re likely to be quite uncomfortable this year.

Since its creation by Congress in 1952, National Day of Prayer organizers have urged large numbers of Americans to engage in public prayer. (Wikipedia has more.) For more than half a century, every U.S. President—including Barack Obama—issued annual proclamations about the day. However, the official National Day of Prayer organizataion and website is Chistian-based and also has close ties to conservative Republican leaders. In 2009, President Obama reversed the practice of the Bush administration of hosting a national Day of Prayer event at the White House. Obama issued a proclamation, but held no formal event in 2009 and will do the same this year. Obama’s 2010 declaration was posted April 30 on the White House site, calling for prayers on behalf of many global concerns and welcoming Americans to pray “in accordance with their own faiths and consciences.”

So, this year? You’ve got lots of options on May 6! You can even debate the legal status with friends over coffee. Whatever you do this year—please, we welcome your thoughts, ideas, comments and your own prayers, either by clicking “Post a Comment” below or by emailing us at [email protected]

(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)

(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)


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