National Day of Prayer

This observance, held on the first Thursday of May, encourages people to pray for the citizens and leaders of America. It is not affiliated with any one religion.

Besides group prayer events or individual prayer, observances include prayer walks, prayer breakfasts and lunches, walks of prayer, and sometimes nighttime religious services and vigils. The President releases a signed proclamation every year asking citizens to pray. There is no official way to celebrate, as individuals of all religions pray with different methods and rituals. Some groups meet in front of courthouses, where they direct their prayer topics. Religions that participate include Christians, Muslims, and Jews, but all kinds are asked to participate.

Background

An individual day of prayer was mandated by George Washington and the Continental Congress in 1775 and another one in 1798 by President John Adams during the Quasi-War. Abraham Lincoln marked April 30, 1863 as a day of praying and fasts as a response to conditions made by the Civil War. It was officially made a holiday by President Truman in 1952. The date was changed to the first Thursday of May in 1988.

In 1972, the National Prayer Committee was established, which organized the National Day of Prayer Task Force. The goal was to put on prayer events throughout the country. Every year, around 35,000 gatherings of prayer take place, aided by around 40,000 National Prayer Task Force members.

Because of its religious nature, the holiday has been challenged legally, particularly by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, who filed a suit in 2008 against George W. Bush and his press secretary, Dana Perino, governor of Wisconsin, Jim Doyle, and his wife, who chaired the National Day of Prayer Task Force. Though the foundation originally won their case, it was unanimously appealed on the grounds that the day does not require participation.

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