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A decade ago, the U.S. Congress officially designated the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer. As part of that day, many communities across our nation gather in public locales with the purpose of joining their hearts in prayer. It is a tradition that is virtually as old as our nation.
As noted by David Barton, founder of WallBuilders, a prayer service is even held at the U.S. Capitol on this date, with elected leaders attending.
But this annual event is upsetting to an organization that believes it “constitutes an unabashed endorsement of religion.” Apparently this organization, The Freedom From Religion Foundation, or FFRF, is offended that their fellow Americans follow in the tradition of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln and Reagan as we beseech the Almighty to bless this great nation.
The FFRF last month sued President Bush, his press secretary, Dana Perino, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, one of 50 governors who issues state prayer proclamations, and Shirley Dobson, who heads the National Day of Prayer Task Force.
In its lawsuit, filed in federal district court, FFRF argues that the presidential proclamation violates the murky “separation of church and state.” The organization states that the day of prayer implies to nonreligious Americans that “they are expected to believe in God,” and sends a message that “religion is preferred over non-religion.”
The problem with this lawsuit, as I see it, is that America has a rich history of honoring God. From our nation’s very first inaugural address by George Washington – in which he requested that the Bible be opened to Deuteronomy chapter 28 – we see the tradition of publicly paying tribute to God.
In his speech that day, April 30, 1789, President Washington stated, “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of Providential agency.”
George Washington understood that this nation is a gift from the Sovereign God, and he recognized the need for the nation to honor Him. “It is the duty of all nations,” Washington said, “to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God and to obey His will.”
Another of our great founders, Thomas Jefferson, stated, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?”
This is the same Jefferson who permitted the use of public buildings – including the U.S. Capitol – for church services and urged the government funding of a Catholic missionary to the Kaskaskia Indians. It is very apparent by Mr. Jefferson’s words, deeds and policies that he did not want to create a religion-free society. The modern civil libertarians are completely wrong to suggest that he did.
In more modern times, our presidents continued in the traditions of Washington and Jefferson. Consider the D-Day radio address of Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, in which he called the nation to join him in prayer: “O Lord, give us faith. … Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but a fleeting moment, let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose. … Thy will be done, Almighty God.” (Listen to this touching prayer.)
Newt Gingrich, writing in “Rediscovering God in America,” wrote, “Franklin Roosevelt was a man of deep religious belief who understood, just as powerfully as Washington before him, that religion and morality were indispensible supports to the preservation of our liberties and our country.”
This is our history, our legacy, as a nation.
If we actually were to eliminate the National Day of Prayer, what will be next? Will we erase “In God We Trust” from our currency (as Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has said we should do)? Will we strip the crosses and stars of David from the hallowed graves at Arlington National Cemetery? Will we chisel the frieze images of Moses and Solomon from the U.S. Supreme Court building? Will we cover the image of the Ten Commandments at the National Archives?
Where will it stop?
We must fight to preserve our history, my friends, because there are those who want to ignore and destroy it. We must ever keep the words of Supreme Court Justice David Joseph Brewer (1837-1910) in our hearts: “The American nation from its first settlement at Jamestown to this hour is based upon and permeated by the principles of the Bible.”