Acton Institute Powerblog

5 Facts About the National Day of Prayer

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national-day-of-prayer-2Today is the National Day of Prayer, an annual day of observance celebrated by Americans of various faiths. Here are five facts you should know about the day when people are asked “to turn to God in prayer and meditation.”

1. The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance held on the first Thursday of May, inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation. It was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman.

2. The National Observance in Washington, DC is coordinated by the National Day of Prayer Task Force, an evangelical nonprofit group. The NDP Task Force was founded in 1979 by Mrs. Vonette Bright, co-founder of the evangelical Christian organization Campus Crusade for Christ International. Since 1991, Shirley Dobson, whose husband is James Dobson, has been the chairwoman.

3. In 2008, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued to challenge the designation of a National Day of Prayer. In 2010, a federal judge ruled that the statute establishing the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional as it is “an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function.” A three judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned that decision.

4. There have been 142 national calls to prayer, humiliation, fasting and thanksgiving by the President of the United States (1789-2013). There have been 65 Presidential Proclamations for a National Day of Prayer (1952-2013). Gerald R. Ford (1976), George H. Bush (1989-91) and Barack H. Obama (2012) are the only U.S. Presidents to sign multiple National Day of Prayer Proclamations in the same year.

5. 34 of the 44 U.S. Presidents have signed proclamations for National Prayer. Three of the Presidents who did not sign a proclamation died while serving in office. Two Presidents, not included in the count – William Howard Taft and Warren Gamaliel Harding, signed proclamations for Thanksgiving and Prayer. Every President since 1952 has signed a National Day of Prayer proclamation.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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