With the annual National Day of Prayer just days away, signs indicate that the White House will not hold a formal event to mark the day.
According to Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News & World Report, the White House said it will issue a proclamation to observe the National Day of Prayer on May 7, but will stop short of holding an official White House event.
An official schedule released by The White House for this week shows that President Obama is only scheduled to sign a proclamation on Thursday and then attend meetings.
This marks a departure from the Bush administration, which annually invited National Day of Prayer Task Force chairman Shirley Dobson and her husband, Dr. James Dobson, founder of the conservative ministry Focus on the Family, to the White House to observe the day of prayer.
Notably, however, Obama is returning to the conventional practice of past administrations besides that of George W. Bush’s. Former presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush had only signed a proclamation to mark the National Day of Prayer without holding an event in the White House.
The annual event was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman. In 1983, the National Day of Prayer Task Force was founded to express the Judeo-Christian view. Shirley Dobson became chairman of the NDP Task Force in 1991 and has held the position ever since. Vonette Bright, co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ with her husband Bill Bright, was the NDP Task Force’s first chairman, and remains the co-chairman.
In recent years, the Task Force has come under attack by atheist groups who argue that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional because it violates the Establishment Clause’s separation of church and state.
Last year, a Wisconsin-based atheist and agnostic group filed a lawsuit against President Bush, the governor of Wisconsin, Shirley and James Dobson, and other officials over the federal law designating a National Day of Prayer.
The Alliance Defense Fund has said it will defend the National Day of Prayer Task Force should the case be accepted by the District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. The legal group argues that public prayer is part of the history and tradition of the country and Americans should be allowed to freely pray without people threatening to silence them.
Millions of Americans are expected to participate in prayer events nationwide for the National Day of Prayer on Thursday. Along with local events, a live webcast of the National Observance in Washington D.C. is scheduled for Thursday morning.