Today is the National Day of Prayer, a day designated by Congress and the president on which, according to a 1998 resolution, “the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.”
President Obama issued a day of prayer proclamation of his own last week which reads, in part:
Prayer has played an important role in the American story and in shaping our Nation’s leaders.
It is thus fitting that, from the earliest years of our country’s history, Congress and Presidents have set aside days to recognize the role prayer has played in so many definitive moments in our history. On this National Day of Prayer, let us follow the example of President Lincoln and Dr. King. Let us be thankful for the liberty that allows people of all faiths to worship or not worship according to the dictates of their conscience, and let us be thankful for the many other freedoms and blessings that we often take for granted.
I invite all citizens of our Nation, as their own faith or conscience directs them, to join me in giving thanks for the many blessings we enjoy, and I ask all people of faith to join me in asking God for guidance, mercy, and protection for our Nation.
The existence of the government-endorsed day of prayer has long riled atheists and advocates of secularism. A suit challenging the constitutionality of the day of prayer, brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, was dismissed by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in April. According to an Associated Press report, the appeals court said “a feeling of alienation cannot suffice as injury.”
Still, Obama’s occasional recognitions of atheists and agnostics have not gone unnoticed in either atheist or Christian circles. The president nodded to “non-believers” in his Inaugural Address and those who do “not worship” in the presidential proclamation.
In a nation of believers and non-believers, do we need a national day of prayer?