Thousands across the country are observing the 60th National Day of Prayer today. And unlike last year, Christians are doing so with ease, knowing that a previous ruling that declared the prayer day unconstitutional has been overturned.
"This is a poignant moment for the National Day of Prayer because one year ago we met right here with a shadow hanging over the National Day of Prayer," said Dr. James Dobson, a prominent evangelical whose wife, Shirley, leads the annual observance.
Speaking Thursday in the Cannon House Office building, Dobson expressed relief and celebrated the 3-0 decision by the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals last month to throw out a legal challenge against NDOP.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb sided with the humanist group Freedom From Religion Foundation in determining that the annual day of prayer was in violation of the separation of church and state. She struck down the federal statute creating the National Day of Prayer as unconstitutional.
Dobson admitted on Thursday that he didn't know what to expect when the ruling was issued.
"We didn't know if we could come to a government building [to pray], we did not know if 48 governors could sign proclamations because a judge had said it's all unconstitutional," he said.
Despite the ruling, Americans organized prayer events and President Barack Obama issued a proclamation recognizing NDOP that year. This year following the appeals court ruling, Obama again continued the tradition observed by every president since 1952 – when President Harry Truman signed a bill proclaiming an annual observance of NDOP.
"I invite all citizens of our Nation, as their own faith or conscience directs them, to join me in giving thanks for the many blessings we enjoy, and I ask all people of faith to join me in asking God for guidance, mercy, and protection for our Nation," he said in his proclamation, released last week.
Dobson credited the prayers of the American people for the recent court decision.
"Millions of people prayed ... God heard and answered prayer and here we are today," he said to applause. "And it's going to continue."
That isn't to say that the prayer day will go unchallenged.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation said it will seek a rehearing of its lawsuit against NDOP by the entire Seventh Court. In the meantime, it is pressuring governors against issuing prayer proclamations and participating in prayer events.
Amid the ongoing challenges, Christians are persistently seeking the Lord in prayer, hoping for a spiritual renewal in America.
This year, the Dobsons and other participants in the National Day of Prayer observance in Washington, D.C., paid tribute to the late President Ronald Reagan, who in 1988 signed into law the designation of the first Thursday in May as the annual observance of NDOP. This year marks the centennial of his birth.