About two dozen members of Congress joined religious leaders Wednesday for a news conference on Capitol Hill to defend the National Day of Prayer.
The event was sponsored by the Congressional Prayer Caucus in response to a federal court ruling last week that declared the prayer day unconstitutional because it appears the government is endorsing religion and promoting prayer.
Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) criticized the judge’s ruling, saying it “undermines the values of religious freedom that America was founded upon and misinterprets the Constitution.”
“Since its founding, faith and prayer have been an integral part throughout our nation’s history,” Miller said Wednesday, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.
The members of Congress stressed that the National Day of Prayer does not force anyone to pray, but is an opportunity for Americans to do so as their predecessors have.
Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), who has sponsored the Congressional National Day of Prayer event at the Capitol for the past several years, explained the history of the annual observance.
The National Day of Prayer was officially created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the U.S. Congress, and signed into law by President Harry Truman. Since 1952, every president has signed a National Day of Prayer proclamation.
“National days of prayer have a long-standing and significant history in American tradition that should not be changed or meddled with,” said Aderholt, according to NBC’s WAFF48 news. “This nation is great because our founding fathers committed to prayer and the principles of their faith and it’s important for America to remember our heritage.”
Aderholt has co-sponsored two resolutions in the House in defense of the day of prayer. One resolution calls for an appeal of the ruling against the National Day of Prayer and expresses the support of the House of Representative for an annual day of prayer. The other resolution affirms the constitutionality and historic importance of the National Day of Prayer.
The lawsuit against the annual prayer day was filed in October 2008 by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group of atheists and agnostics. The group originally filed the lawsuit against President George Bush and Dana Perino, his press secretary, among others. But the current defendants are President Obama and Robert Gibbs.
Last month, Shirley Dobson, chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, was dismissed from the lawsuit.
President Obama has expressed that he still intends to issue a proclamation this year to recognize the day on May 6.
Some members of Congress and religious leaders are urging the president to direct the Justice Department to appeal the judge’s decision.
“The Constitution says ‘Freedom OF Religion’ not ‘Freedom FROM Religion,’” contended Tom McClusky, senior vice president of Family Research Council Action. “Yet repeatedly we run into judges who just don’t seem to get it.”
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote that her decision does not bar prayer day activities until appeal cases have been settled.
This year marks the 59th annual National Day of Prayer. The Congressional National Day of Prayer event will take place in Cannon Building at the U.S. Capitol on May 6. Speakers at the event include Franklin Graham and James Dobson, among others.