National Day of Prayer Is on, despite Court Ruling

Article excerpt

President Obama has issued a National Day of Prayer proclamation but will not hold an interfaith observance at the White House, as President Bush did. The administration is appealing a ruling last month that the official day of prayer is unconstitutional.

Thursday, May 6, is the National Day of Prayer, as proclaimed by President Obama. But this year, the annual ritual that began in 1952 is taking place amid controversy.

Last month, a federal judge in Wisconsin ruled that the US law directing the president to proclaim such a day violates the First Amendment, which prohibits government establishment of religion. US District Judge Barbara Crabb also said it was OK to proceed with the National Day of Prayer, pending appeals.

On April 22, the Obama administration appealed Judge Crabb's ruling to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

But, like last year, Mr. Obama himself will not hold any official prayer day observance at the White House. His predecessor, George W. Bush, had held an annual interfaith observance in the East Room of the White House.

Last year, when Obama decided to limit the White House's involvement to a proclamation, an urban legend was born: Obama had "canceled" the National Day of Prayer. Not so, the White House said. The myth-busting website Snopes.com has a page devoted to the topic. It's not that the White House is opposed to prayer, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said last year. "Prayer is something that the president does every day," he added, noting that it is private.

The National Day of Prayer Task Force, a privately funded group with strong ties to the Evangelical Christian movement, is fighting back against the judge's ruling and circulating a petition.

"The National Day of Prayer provides an opportunity for all Americans to pray voluntarily according to their own faith - it does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment," task force chairwoman Shirley Dobson said in a statement.

Groups around the country will hold observances on Thursday marking the National Day of Prayer, as in years past. …