Prayer Day 'Hijacked' by Evangelicals, Critics Say

By Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service
Saturday, April 26, 2008

WASHINGTON -- Is the upcoming National Day of Prayer a day for all Americans -- or just conservative evangelicals?

That's what some critics are charging in advance of the observances Thursday as they call for a more inclusive approach to an event that they say has been "hijacked" by conservative Christians.

Jews on First, a 2 1/2 -year-old online organization, has questioned the application process for coordinators affiliated with the National Day of Prayer Task Force, which is headed by Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.

Although the task force is a private group, it nonetheless gets an unofficial government seal of approval with an annual proclamation by President Bush and prayer ceremonies held at the White House and on Capitol Hill.

Jews on First is spearheading an "Inclusive National Day of Prayer" campaign that includes a Web site featuring talking points, sample letters to governors and a list of "alternative inclusive observances."

"The National Day of Prayer has been hijacked!" the group declares on its Web site. "What began as President Truman's declaration of a National Prayer Day for all Americans is now excluding and dividing us on religious lines."

Jane Hunter, co-director of Jews on First, said her group has interfaith volunteers in several states who are urging their governors to issue inclusive proclamations about the annual observance.

"The volunteers who organize the events . . . are required to pledge that they will only invite Christian clergy to officiate," said Hunter, a longtime Jewish activist who lives in Bethesda. "The volunteers themselves have to . . . make a statement of faith that is very narrowly drawn so that only a conservative evangelical Christian would be comfortable doing it."

The National Day of Prayer is always observed on the first Thursday in May. Becky Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the National Day of Prayer Task Force, said the same application for coordinators has been "used for years."

"The task force has chosen to conduct events that reflect its Christian perspective on prayer," she said. "All Americans are free to exercise their First Amendment rights to organize events that observe the National Day of Prayer in a manner that reflects their religious perspective."

The task force's Web site ( features a note from Lisa Crump, manager of local coordinators, that says, "A simple application with contact data and statement of faith, confirming your commitment to Christ is all that's needed to get you on the way to becoming a NDP Task Force volunteer coordinator."

Applicants must indicate whether their lives reflect a belief statement that begins: "I believe that the Holy Bible is the inerrant Word of The Living God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only One by which I can obtain salvation and have an ongoing relationship with God."

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