Non-Christian critics are accusing evangelicals of taking over the upcoming National Day of Prayer, which they complain excludes faithfuls from other religions.
"The National Day of Prayer has been hijacked!" declares Jews on First on its Web site. "What began as President Truman's declaration of a National Prayer Day for all Americans is now excluding and dividing us on religious lines."
Millions of Americans are expected to gather at tens of thousands of prayer events nationwide for the 57th annual National Day of Prayer on May 1. 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."
Jews on First, a group founded to oppose the Christian right and its "theocratic agenda," specifically protests against questions on the application to be a coordinator affiliated with the National Day of Prayer Task Force.
The Task Force is headed by Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family founder and Christian right leader Dr. James Dobson.
"The volunteers who organize the events ... are required to pledge that they will only invite Christian clergy to officiate," said Jane Hunter, co-director of Jews on First, according to Religion News Service. "The volunteers themselves have to ... make a statement of faith that is very narrowly drawn so that only a conservative evangelical Christian would be comfortable doing it."
But Becky Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the National Day of Prayer Task Force, said the same application for coordinators has been "used for years," according to RNS.
"The task force has chosen to conduct events that reflect its Christian perspective on prayer," she said. "All Americans are free to exercise their First Amendment rights to organize events that observe the National Day of Prayer in a manner that reflects their religious perspective."
Applicants to be official coordinators are asked to indicate if they believe in a statement that includes: "I believe that the Holy Bible is the inerrant Word of The Living God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only One by which I can obtain salvation and have an ongoing relationship with God."
Moreover, the application form asks coordinators to vow that activities they lead will be "conducted solely by Christians while those with differing beliefs are welcome to attend."
In response, Jews on First is spearheading an "Inclusive National Day of Prayer" campaign that includes a Web site featuring a list of alternative inclusive observances. It is also using its interfaith volunteers to urge governors in several states to issue inclusive proclamations about the annual observances.
The Jews on First effort is supported by other church-state watchdog groups, including Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The National Day of Prayer is observed on the first Thursday of May, which this year falls on May 1.
Dr. and Mrs. Dobson will be among the presenters in Washington, where they will be joined by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Dr. Ravi Zacharias and others.
"We're living in very serious and uncertain times," Mrs. Dobson told CitizenLink recently. "Without God, we will never be able to navigate the turbulent waters that we're going through. As long as God is on His throne, there is always hope."