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Thursday, May 5, 2011

National Day of Prayer

In 1988, President Reagan signed Public Law 100-307, designating the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer. In accordance with this law, President Obama has issued a proclamation:

Prayer has played an important role in the American story and in shaping our Nation's leaders. President Abraham Lincoln once said, "I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for the day." The late Coretta Scott King recounted a particularly difficult night, during the Montgomery bus boycott, when her husband, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., received a threatening phone call and prayed at the kitchen table, saying, "Lord, I have nothing left. I have nothing left. I have come to the point where I can't face it alone." Dr. King said, in that moment of prayer, he was filled with a sense of comfort and resolve, which his wife credited as a turning point in the civil rights movement.

It is thus fitting that, from the earliest years of our country's history, Congress and Presidents have set aside days to recognize the role prayer has played in so many definitive moments in our history. On this National Day of Prayer, let us follow the example of President Lincoln and Dr. King. Let us be thankful for the liberty that allows people of all faiths to worship or not worship according to the dictates of their conscience, and let us be thankful for the many other freedoms and blessings that we often take for granted.

In April, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower-court ruling that the law was unconstitutional. From the opinion by Judge Frank Easterbrook:
We conclude that neither the statute nor the President’s implementing proclamations injures plaintiffs, who therefore lack standing. Section 119 imposes duties on the President alone. It does not require any private person to do anything—or for that matter to take any action in response to whatever the President proclaims. If anyone suffers injury, therefore, that person is the President, who is not complaining.

President Lincoln’s second inaugural address, likely the greatest speech ever made by an American President, mentions God seven times and prayer three times, including the sentence: “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.” The address is chiseled in stone at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall. An argument that the prominence of these words injures every citizen, and that the Judicial Branch could order them to be blotted out, would be dismissed as preposterous.