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Briefing Paper: National Day of Prayer Task Force

The National Day of Prayer has been around in some form since 1775, when the Continental Congress called for the colonies to pray for guidance in forming a nation. It was not until 1952, however, that Congress officially established a National Day of Prayer. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan amended this law to establish the first Thursday of May as the official date.

Politicizing the National Day of Prayer
In recent year the “National Day of Prayer” has been co-opted by groups seeking to turn the day into a tool for promoting a political agenda based on conservative and evangelical Christian principles. The politicization of the day is due in large part to a deceptive and deliberate strategy executed by the National Day of Prayer Task Force. Although the NDP Task Force has no recognized standing with any governmental body, its Web site bills itself as the “official” Web site for the National Day of Prayer.

The NDP Task Force organizes high-profile events in Washington, D.C., state capitals, and at city halls and other venues around the country. Rather than respecting the inclusive spirit behind the designation of a “National Day of Prayer” for Americans of all faiths, the NDP Task Force applies a strict religious test for event participants. In fact, the group’s events exclude non-Christian groups and even discourage participation by non-evangelical Christians. Yet elected officials including presidents, governors and legislators regularly participate in these exclusive events.

Promoting an Agenda
Adopting the culture war language of the Christian right, the NDP Task Force in the past has explicitly instructed participants to pray about such social issues as “condom distribution, the promotion of homosexuality and a refusal to acknowledge God [in public schools].” (“The National Day of Prayer Task Force: Turning a Day of Faith into a Rally for the Christian Right”)

In an attempt to build a political case that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, the NDP Web site relies heavily on flawed materials created by David Barton. Barton served as the vice chairman of the Republican Party of Texas and president of the Christian advocacy group WallBuilders, which argues against separation of church and state. The NDP Web site has even included a false quotation attributed to James Madison by Barton’s videotape America’s Godly Heritage (1993): “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government: upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.” Barton long ago acknowledged that the attribution to Madison was inaccurate.

Excluding the Faithful
Madan Goyal, a member of a Hindu congregation in Plano, Texas, was excluded from National Day of Prayer services held at Plano City Hall in 2005. (WFAA, May 5, 2005)

Lori Wagner of the National Day of Prayer Task Force asserted that the group was Christian-only in 2005. (The Detroit News, April 6, 2005)

An interfaith group including Hindus, Muslims, Jews and other religions has been excluded from National Day of Prayer activities held in the Troy (Mich.) City Hall. (The Detroit News, April 6, 2005)

Rev. William Keller, who organized 2003 National Day of Prayer services on the steps of city hall in Muncie, Ind., said non-Christians were free to “follow the devil and Judaism and all that,” after refusing to allow Jewish and Islamic prayers at the group’s service. (Associated Press, May 1, 2003)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not allowed to perform services at a National Day of Prayer event in Salt Lake City in 2004. NDP Task Force spokesman Mark Fried said that the NDP Task Force doesn’t recognize the Mormon faith. (Associated Press, May 4, 2003)

In 2000, an organizer of NDP Task Force services in California rejected the notion that Muslims, Adventists, Jews, Mormons and other religions should take part in National Day of Prayer services. (Press Enterprise, May 3, 2000)