(Photo: Nebraska City News-Press)
Officials of a Nebraska county have agreed to allow the observance of a prayer service on the steps of a courthouse in May.
The Commissioners of Otoe County agreed to grant Pastor Norman Anderson of Calvary Community Church of Nebraska City permission on Tuesday to conduct a prayer service on the steps of the county courthouse as part of the National Day of Prayer.
This is not the first time that Anderson has come to the Commissioners and been given permission to hold such a ceremony. In the April 25, 2006, meeting of Otoe County Commissioners, Anderson proposed a similar measure in honor of that year's National Day of Prayer. As with this year, the request was granted.
For last year's observance, which occurred on May 5, members of several local congregations, including Anderson's Calvary Community, Cornerstone Church of Nebraska City, Bethel United Church of Christ, and Douglas United Methodist Church, prayed at the courthouse.
John Bornschein, vice chairman for the National Day of Prayer Task Force, told The Christian Post that there are numerous observances for the NDP occurring across the country.
"In fact, this year we are already seeing a 30 percent increase in posted events indicating that the 61st annual National Day of Prayer will be the largest observance on record with millions gathered coast to coast," said Bornschein.
"With such numbers it is not uncommon to see a variety in creative expressions of prayer. This includes gatherings at locations of great influence and decision, such as courthouses."
Since signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1988, the National Day of Prayer is observed annually on the first Thursday of May.
"Prayer has played an important role in the American story and in shaping our nation's leaders," said President Barack Obama in the 2011 proclamation for the observance.
"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."
In April 2010, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb declared the prayer day unconstitutional, based on a lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. However, last April a three-judge panel of the Seventh U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the decision, arguing that FFRF lacked legal standing to challenge it.
Bornschein told CP that rather than being a church-state violation, calls to prayer have been pervasive in America's history.
"Throughout our history there have been 137 national calls to prayer and fasting; 34 of the 44 U.S. Presidents have signed proclamations for a National Day of Prayer," said Bornschein.
"In total more than 965 state and federal calls to prayer have occurred since 1775 and counting. Our accountability and recognition of a higher authority is the very practice that has preserved our republic."
The 2012 observance of the National Day of Prayer will be observed on Thursday, May 3. The Otoe County Board of Commissioners did not return comment by press time