National Day of Prayer a testament to America's uniqueness, backers say
National Day of Prayer activities include speeches and gatherings of many different faiths. Controversial to some, the National Day of Prayer has roots in the earliest days of the nation.
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Episcopal priest the Rev. Albert Cutie will attend Trinity Cathedral in downtown Miami with virtually all Christian denominations as well as Imams and Rabbis in attendance. [Editor's note: The original version misstated Father Cutie's religion.]
University of Minnesota’s Nick Campbell, who calls himself a “non-denominational Christian,” will likely be “too caught up in my own schedule, agenda, schooling, etc…. too distracted to pray … something I am always working on.”
The common denominator is that all of the above consider themselves highly religious people who heartily welcome today’s National Day of Prayer, a day formally designated by Congress and President Harry Truman in 1952 and carried on by every president since. Similar proclamations were signed last year by all 50 state governors and those of several US territories.
“I think this day is a huge deal and very important for a nation like ours based on Judeo-Christian principles to really reflect,” says Father Cutie, author of “Dilemma: A Priest’s Struggle with Faith and Love." “This is not just a way of dealing with news on the economy and terrorism but to teach future generations long term to put their trust in a higher power, no matter what they consider that to mean.” [Editor's note: The original version misstated the name of Father Cutie's book.]
Separation of church and state?
That comment makes some people – atheists and civil libertarians – uncomfortable with what they feel is the day’s foggy blend of patriotism and religion. For others, it seems to be a clear violation of America’s constitutional separation of church and state. But legal analysts say the proclamation passes legal muster because it does not force people to pray on this day.
“From a constitutional perspective, there is nothing infirm about a National Day of Prayer,” says Harold Krent, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law. “Congress has not thereby established a religion, nor has it infringed anyone’s right to follow the dictates of his or her own religion.”
That said, the day could be applied in an unconstitutional manner, he says.
“For instance, school districts requiring prayer on a National Day of Prayer would, in all likelihood, violate the Establishment Clause. Schools can study about prayer and the role of prayer in our lives, but not require or even strongly encourage prayer, particularly in younger grades," says Professor Kent. "Conversely, however, governors and the president can encourage us to pray in our private lives, without establishing a religion or coercing religious practices.”
Such observances will go on in dozens of forms – from long speeches to short notices to silent prayers sponsored by congregations small and large.
“This is a very positive thing and the more of it and the more diverse, the better,” says author and television personality Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. “Unlike Europe, where such a day would be impossible, this is what makes the US the multiple and varied society that it is. We are all Americans and pray to the same God. This spotlights the collective and raises us all above our denominations to realize we are all one, human family.”