Does a National Day of Prayer Violate the Constitution?

The American Atheists organization thinks so, especially with this year's emphasis on prayer at schools

Reprinted with permission from American Atheists and AANEWS.

The annual ritual known as the National Day of Prayer is scheduled for Thursday, May 4, and already there are indications that some of the activities may come close to violating the separation of church and state.

Headed by a Task Force operating out of the Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs, Co., the National Day of Prayer is chaired by Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus founder and family values guru, James Dobson.

Many argue that elected officials have no business issuing proclamations which endorse the event.

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"Our hope for America as we press into the new millennium is rooted in reverence for God and our dependence on His continued blessing and guidance," Ms. Dobson said in a press statement announcing this year's NDOP. "That expression of faith inspired our founding fathers at the birth of this nation, and it will be our strength in the days ahead."

National Day of Prayer organizers say that the event dates back to 1775, when the Continental Congress "designated a time for prayer in forming a new nation." The real origins, though, lay in the cold war period when the struggle against "Godless Communism" was draped in the mantle of a religious crusade. The Supreme Court, starting with the 1948 McCollum decision handed down a series of decisive rulings affirming the separation of church and state. Belief in God became a litmus test for patriotism, and Congress responded to the hysteria by passing a slew of legislative items, including a 1952 joint declaration which called for an annual prayer event. President Eisenhower followed the tradition, and inaugurated official prayer breakfasts in the White House.

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