A legal group that focuses on Christian religious freedom cases sent letters to the nation's largest cities advising them of the right to participate in Thursday's National Day of Prayer, and to assure them that attorneys are ready to defend those in any legal dispute.
"Americans shouldn't be forced to abandon their religious heritage simply to appease someone's political agenda," said Alliance Defense Fund chief counsel Benjamin Bull.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has acknowledged that public prayer is 'deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country,'" he continued. "The National Day of Prayer has been a part of that. That is why ADF attorneys stand ready to defend the right of millions of Americans who wish to join together in prayer on May 1 without fear of legal attack from those who seek to silence their constitutional right to pray."
Millions of Americans were expected to gather at tens of thousands of prayer events nationwide for the 57th annual National Day of Prayer on Thursday. The theme this year is "Prayer! America's Strength and Shield" and is based on Psalm 28:7: "The Lord is my strength and shield; my heart trusts in Him and I am helped."
ADF said it sent informational letters last week to nearly 1,200 of the nation's largest cities to advise them of their constitutional right to recognize and participate in the 2008 NDOP.
"Public officials and citizens throughout our country need to be encouraged and reminded that they can and should resist the increasingly radical demands of secularist groups to censor public prayer," said Bull. "The Constitution protects public officials who choose to invoke divine guidance and blessings upon their work and our nation."
Governors in all 50 states as well as the Virgin Islands have issued proclamations for the National Day of Prayer.
On Thursday morning, President George W. Bush marked the National Day of Prayer with Shirley Dobson, the head of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, her husband Dr. James C. Dobson, Dr. Ravi Zacharias, members of his cabinet, congressional members, and others in the White House.
"On this day, Americans come together to thank our Creator for our nation's many blessings. We are a blessed nation. And on this day, we celebrate our freedoms, particularly the freedom to pray in public and the great diversity of faith found in America," said President Bush.
"I love being the President of a country where people feel free to worship as they see fit. And I remind our fellow citizens, if you choose to worship or not worship, and no matter how you worship, we're all equally American," he said.
A national day of prayer was unofficially established more than 200 years ago by President George Washington, who in 1795 issued a proclamation setting aside Feb. 19 as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer. In 1952, President Harry S. Truman established a national day of prayer via a joint resolution of Congress. Thirty-six years later, President Ronald Reagan amended and signed a law permanently designating the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer.