A Christian legal group is urging governors across the U.S. to not be bullied by anti-religious groups and observe the 60th Annual National Day of Prayer (NDOP) on May 5, telling them that local observances of the annual tradition are completely "constitutional" and "appropriate."
"You can be confident that your participation in and acknowledgement of the National Day of Prayer are constitutionally protected activities," Alliance Defense Fund senior counsel Kevin H. Theriot assures governors in a letter expected to be received Monday.
"You are free to proclaim your support for this event, and you are under no obligation to satisfy the demands of any disgruntled individual or civil libertarian group that may oppose such action."
Last April, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin ruled that the federal law creating the National Day of Prayer violates the constitutional separation of church and state. The challenge was brought by The Freedom from Religion Foundation, an atheistic and agnostic group, which also launched anti-prayer billboards in Colorado Springs last year that proclaimed, "God & Government a Dangerous Mix: Keep State & Church Separate."
The Obama administration has appealed Crabb's decision to the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Attorney generals from several states joined in a friend-to-the-court brief by the state of Texas supporting the National Day of Prayer.
In her decision, Crabb stayed her ruling pending appeal.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation also challenged the NDOP in Colorado. In October, Judge R. Michael Mullins dismissed the lawsuit asserting that the Colorado governor violated the state constitution by issuing a state proclamation recognizing the National Day of Prayer.
According to Mullins, the proclamation does not carry the force of law and therefore is not mandating prayer.
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.
"A decision by a district court in Wisconsin last year does nothing to change this law," the ADF letter assures.
As U.S. presidents have done in the past, President Obama has for the past two years issued a proclamation declaring the first Thursday of May as the National Day of Prayer. In his statement last year, he recognized that Americans have long considered it "fitting and proper" to publicly recognize the importance of prayer on the National Day of Prayer.
ADF attorneys also note that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld presidential proclamations of thanksgiving and prayer as constitutional.
"Just as the President's proclamations and 'appeals to the Almighty' can be issued consistent with the Establishment Clause, so can the proclamations and appeals of state and local officials," says Theriot in the letter.
"Historically, all 50 governors, along with the president of the United States, have issued proclamations in honor of the National Day of Prayer, and we anticipate this year will be no different."
This year's NDOP theme is "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" based on Psalm 91:2.