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National Day of Prayer

National Day of Prayer
Observed by United States
Date First Thursday in May
2015 date May 7  (2015-05-07)
2016 date May 5  (2016-05-05)
2017 date May 4  (2017-05-04)
2018 date May 3  (2018-05-03)
Frequency annual
Related to Day of Prayer

The National Day of Prayer (36 U.S.C. § 119)[1] is an annual day of observance held on the first Thursday of May, designated by the United States Congress, when people are asked "to turn to God in prayer and meditation". Each year since its inception, the president has signed a proclamation, encouraging all Americans to pray on this day.[2]

The modern law formalizing its annual observance was enacted in 1952, although earlier days of fasting and prayer had been established by the Second Continental Congress from 1775 until 1783, and by President John Adams in 1798 and 1799.[3][4] Most presidents have issued annual or special occasion proclamations for a national day of prayer, with the notable exceptions of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.

The constitutionality of the National Day of Prayer was unsuccessfully challenged in court by the Freedom From Religion Foundation after their first attempt was unanimously dismissed by a federal appellate court in April 2011.[5][6]


  • History 1
  • Observance 2
  • Legal challenge 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The National Day of Prayer shares common roots with the celebration of Thanksgiving; both were national proclamations establishing a day of prayer, but in the New England Colonies under British rule, traditional observances in late fall called for prayer and thanksgiving, while observances in the spring or summer called for prayer and fasting.[7] The fall observance was established by President Abraham Lincoln as the official Thanksgiving holiday in 1863. The spring observance was established by President Harry S. Truman in 1952 as the National Day of Prayer.

Residents of Kentwood, Louisiana, gather outside the Town Hall alongside LA 38 to observe 2015's National Day of Prayer.

Friction in 1768–1776 between the American colonists and England spurred some American cities and colonies to proclaim days of prayer. For instance,

  • Presidential Proclamation – National Day of Prayer
  • Religious's section of the National Day of Prayer
  • Text of the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit, April 14, 2011
  • Text of Judge Crabb's Opinion and Order, April 15, 2010

External links

  1. ^ "36 U.S.C. § 119 : US Code – Section 119: National Day of Prayer". 
  2. ^ "History of the National Day of Prayer". Retrieved May 3, 2012. 
  3. ^ Adams, John (March 6, 1799). "Proclamation - Recommending a National Day of Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer". The American Presidency Project. University of California, Santa Barbara. Retrieved July 11, 2014. 
  4. ^ Adams, John (March 31, 1798). "By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation". The Weekly Magazine 1 (9): 287.  John Adams' signed the proclamation on March 3, 1798, with the day of prayer to take place on May 9, 1798.
  5. ^ Legal challenge to National Day of Prayer thrown out, The Christian Science Monitor
  6. ^ Court Dismisses Challenge to National Day of Prayer, USA Today
  7. ^ a b c d e Davis, Derek H. (2000). Religion and the Continental Congress, 1774–1789: Contributions to Original Intent. Oxford University Press. pp. 83–84.  
  8. ^ Jefferson, Thomas (1970). Jefferson Himself: The Personal Narrative of a Many-Sided American. University of Virginia Press. p. 50.   Jefferson is quoted by Derek H. Davis in Religion and the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, page 84.
  9. ^   "Proclamation for a day of Fasting and Prayer"
  10. ^ Davis 2000, p. 85.
  11. ^ Davis 2000, p. 86.
  12. ^ The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799 14. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1779. p. 369. 
  13. ^ Pennsylvania Archives. Google Books. p. 131. Retrieved May 3, 2012. 
  14. ^ Davis 2000, pp. 88–89.
  15. ^ a b c Davis 2000, p. 90.
  16. ^ Grizzard, Frank E. (2002). George Washington: A Biographical Companion. ABC-CLIO. p. 385.   "Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation".
  17. ^ Butler, Jon; Wacker, Grant; Balmer, Randall (09-08-11). Religion in American Life: A Short History. Oxford University Press. p. 161.  
  18. ^  
  19. ^ "National Prayer for Peace". The Jefferson Monticello. 2011. Retrieved July 12, 2014. 
  20. ^ Allmond, Joy (May 3, 2010). "A Legacy of Revival in the Nation’s Capital". Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Retrieved July 12, 2014. 
  21. ^ "The Pluralism Project at Harvard University :America's National Day of Prayer (2006)". Retrieved May 3, 2012. 
  22. ^ "National Prayer Committee website – Mission, Values, Call and Covenant". Retrieved May 3, 2012. 
  23. ^ a b "Proclamation 5017 – National Day of Prayer, 1983". Retrieved May 3, 2012. 
  24. ^  
  25. ^ National Day of Prayer Task Force Knocks Obama White House, U.S. News & World Report, April 15, 2010, Dan Gilgof
  26. ^ "National Day of Prayer". Snopes. March 18, 2012. Retrieved July 11, 2014. 
  27. ^ Obama, Barack (May 7, 2009). "Presidential Proclamation National Day of Prayer". The White House. Retrieved July 11, 2014. 
  28. ^ Blackwell, Mark (2014-04-30). "National Day Of Prayer". CBS. Retrieved 07-11-14. Today is the National Day of Prayer. It has been around longer than we’ve been a country. It’s celebrated on the first Thursday of May every year by Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and Sikhs. 
  29. ^ "National Day of Prayer opportunity for Americans to seek God". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  30. ^ "National Day of Prayer Grows In Popularity". The Huffington Post. May 3, 2012. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  31. ^ "National Day of Prayer Observed by Interfaith Roundtable of Kauai". Himalayan Academy. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  32. ^ "National Day of Prayer events set in Augusta". The Augusta Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  33. ^ "Presidential Proclamation--National Day of Prayer". White House. Retrieved 2012-05-29. 
  34. ^ "Atheist group sues Bush over national prayer day". USA Today. October 6, 2008. Retrieved May 3, 2012. 
  35. ^ Freedom From Religion Foundation National Day of Prayer Case Proceeds
  36. ^ "Decision of FFRF v. President Obama and Shirley Dobson" (PDF). Retrieved May 3, 2012. 
  37. ^ "Opinion and Order" (PDF). 
  38. ^ Gilgoff, Dan (April 16, 2010). "Federal judge strikes down National Day of Prayer statute". CNN. Retrieved April 16, 2010. 
  39. ^ Richey, Warren (April 15, 2010). "Federal judge: National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved April 17, 2010. 
  40. ^ " U.S. appeals ruling striking down National Day of Prayer". April 22, 2010. Retrieved May 3, 2012. 
  41. ^ AP: Court dismisses suit over National Day of Prayer


See also

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a notice to appeal the ruling on April 22, 2010,[40] and on April 14, 2011 a three judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned Crabb's decision. The panel ruled that FFRF did not have standing to sue because the National Day of Prayer had not caused them harm and stated that "a feeling of alienation cannot suffice as injury." The court further stated that "the President is free to make appeals to the public based on many kinds of grounds, including political and religious, and that such requests do not obligate citizens to comply and do not encroach on citizens' rights. The federal appeals court also cited Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address, which referenced God seven times and prayer three times.[41]

On March 1, 2010 U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb stated that FFRF's lawsuit could proceed because the plaintiffs had shown that they suffered "concrete injury" that can potentially be remedied by judicial action. Judge Crabb stated about those supporting the federal law designating the National Day of Prayer, "adopting [the] defendants' view of standing would allow the government to have unrestrained authority to demean members of any religious group without legal consequence. The federal government could declare the 'National Day of Anti-Semitism' or even declare Christianity the official religion of the United States, but no one would have standing to sue because no one would have to 'pass by' those declarations."[36] On April 15, 2010, Judge Crabb ruled that the statute establishing the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional as it is "an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function."[37][38] However, Crabb stayed her ruling pending the completion of appeals.[39]

The Dana Perino; Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle; and evangelist Dobson's wife, Shirley Dobson, in her capacity as chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force.[34] The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) provided defense for Shirley Dobson while government lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb to dismiss the case, arguing principally that the group has no legal standing to sue.[35]

Legal challenge

The National Day of Prayer is celebrated by Americans of many religions, including Christians of many denominations, including Protestants and Catholics, as well as Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, and Jews,[28][29] reflecting the demographics of the United States.[30] On the National Day of Prayer, many Americans assemble in prayer in front of courthouses, as well as in houses of worship, such as churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples.[31] Luncheons, picnics, and music performances revolving around praying for the nation are also popular observances.[32] Traditionally, the President of the United States issues an official National Day of Prayer proclamation each year as well.[33]


[27][26] though he has issued presidential proclamations regularly each year.[25] did not hold any public events at the White House,Barack Obama and he held events at the White House in each year of his presidency. President [24] Presidents

In 1988, the law was amended so that the National Day of Prayer would be held on the first Thursday of May. Two stated intentions of the National Day of Prayer were that it would be a day when adherents of all great religions could unite in prayer and that it may one day bring renewed respect for God to all the peoples of the world.[23]

Sailors bow their heads in prayer during the National Day of Prayer. May 3, 2007.

In 1982 a conservative evangelical Christian organization called the "National Prayer Committee" was formed to coordinate and implement a fixed annual day of prayer for the purpose of organizing evangelical Christian prayer events with local, state, and federal government entities.[22] In his 1983 declaration, Ronald Reagan said, "From General Washington's struggle at Valley Forge to the present, this Nation has fervently sought and received divine guidance as it pursued the course of history. This occasion provides our Nation with an opportunity to further recognize the source of our blessings, and to seek His help for the challenges we face today and in the future."[23]

In January–February 1952 during the Korean War, the desirability of a united national prayer was stated by Reverend Billy Graham, who said, "What a thrilling, glorious thing it would be to see the leaders of our country today kneeling before Almighty God in prayer. What a thrill would sweep this country. What renewed hope and courage would grip the Americans at this hour of peril." Representative Percy Priest from Tennessee observed that Graham had issued a challenge for a national day of prayer.[20] Members of the House and Senate introduced a joint resolution for an annual National Day of Prayer, "on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals."[21] On April 17, 1952, President Harry S. Truman signed a bill proclaiming a National Day of Prayer must be declared by each subsequent president at an appropriate date of his choice.[15]

The practice of calling for national days of fasting and prayer was abandoned from 1784 until 1789, even though thanksgiving days were observed each fall.[14] On October 3, 1789, President Washington called for a national day of prayer and thanksgiving to be observed on Thursday, November 26, 1789; this was an extension of the tradition of thanksgiving which was already customary in New England.[15][16] President Adams continued the practice of proclaiming national days of prayer in the spring and fall,[17] but President Jefferson did not, as he considered prayer to be a matter for personal rather than state involvement.[18][19] Except for Andrew Jackson who likewise was an ardent believer in the separation of church and state, every president since Jefferson has proclaimed a national day of prayer on special occasions or annually in spring.[15]

In his role as [12] In March 1780, Congress announced a day of "fasting, humiliation and prayer" to be held on Wednesday, April 26, 1780.[13]

The observance of a day of fasting and prayer was brought to all of the colonists by the [9] The text, written by John Witherspoon and John Hancock, instructed the colonists to pray for a resumption of "the just rights and privileges of the Colonies" in "civil and religious" matters.[10] A proclamation to this end was sent to every town in the colonies. John Adams wrote that the popular response was gratifying, that the special day was more widely observed than the practice of going to church on Sunday.[11] After this success, Congress determined to call for a day of fasting and prayer each spring, and a day of thanksgiving and praise each fall.[7]


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