A Christian legal group is asking a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the National Day of Prayer, contending that the annual event is "deeply embedded in the tradition and history of this country."
"Throughout the nation's history, American presidents have issued 164 proclamations calling the nation to prayer. Such calls for national prayer did not violate the Establishment Clause during the founding era" and they are still constitutional today, states a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the ACLJ Friday, representing 31 members of Congress.
Last year, in October, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a group that believes the Constitution "was very purposefully written to be a godless document," filed a lawsuit in Madison, Wis., broadly challenging the federal law designating a National Day of Prayer and requiring a National Day of Prayer Proclamation by the President.
"Mandated Prayer proclamations by the President exhorting each citizen to pray constitutes an unabashed endorsement of religion," contends the FFRF legal complaint
"Designations of an official Day of Prayer by Presidential and Gubernatorial proclamations, encouraging celebration of prayer, create a hostile environment for nonbelievers, who are made to feel as if they are political outsiders," continues the complaint.
The ACLJ, however, contends that such proclamations and observances reflect the nation's rich history. Furthermore, the Supreme Court had ruled in the 1983 Marsh v. Chambers case that "legislative prayer presents no more potential for establishment" than practices previously upheld.
"The courts have been clear on this issue: there is no constitutional crisis here," argues ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow. "We're hopeful that the court will take the only action appropriate in this case and dismiss this lawsuit."
The Alliance Defense Fund, which is defending the National Day of Prayer Task Force against a lawsuit by an atheist group, has urged Americans to do their part in protecting one of nation's longest standing faith traditions by joining a campaign to rally in support of the annual prayer day.
ADF is asking Americans to support the National Day of Prayer by going to www.savethendop.org to send a note of encouragement ti Shirley Dobson, chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force and wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, and to write a letter urging President Barack Obama to uphold the NDP by issuing a presidential proclamation.
The National Day of Prayer has been observed each year on the first Thursday of May since it was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman.
In their brief, the ACLJ noted that since the country's inception, nearly every president has issued proclamations calling the nation to pray for a variety of purposes.
It also contends that the "strategy to purge all religious observances and references from American public life must not be indulged."
This year's National Day of Prayer is scheduled for May 7.