By BosNewsLife News Center
WASHINGTON, USA (BosNewsLife)– United States President Barack Obama was to limit his participation in the annual “National Day of Prayer,” Thursday, May 7, to signing a proclamation, disappointing both Christian conservatives and atheists who want to end the tradition.
“We are disappointed in the lack of participation by the Obama administration,” said Shirley Dobson, who chairs the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a private group that promotes prayer events around the country. The task force estimates two million Americans attended more than 40,000 events marking the day last year.
Dobson, who is also the wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, added in published remarks that “At this time in our country’s history, we would hope our president would recognize more fully the importance of prayer.”
However White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs denied that President Obama did not value prayer. “I think the president understands, in his own life and in his family’s life, the role that prayer plays,” Gibbs told reporters. “And I would denote that administrations prior to the past one did proclamations.” It was a reference to President George W. Bush, who besides signing a proclamation also participated in public prayer events and meetings with religious leaders.
“The president will publicly observe National Prayer Day. But as I said, privately he’ll pray as he does every day,” Gibbs said about Obama’s plans. Yet, atheists say that even a proclamation goes to far and a debate over the day has landed in federal court in the U.S. state of Wisconsin. The Obama administration has asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which claims the day violates the separation of church and state.
In a rare alliance, 31 mostly Republican members of Congress and a prominent Christian legal group are joining the administration to fight the lawsuit, news reports said. Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-Director Annie Laurie Gaylor told media she has been “shocked” by his administration’s defense of the day in court.
The Madison-based group of 12,000 atheists and agnostics filed the lawsuit near the end of President Bush’s second term. It asks a judge to declare the law unconstitutional and to order presidents and governors to stop issuing prayer proclamations.
The Obama administration reportedly asked U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb to dismiss the case in March, saying the the group has no legal standing to sue and that the tradition’s roots date to 1775. In addition, the administration said most presidents have invoked faith in a higher power.
It also stressed that the day does not promote religion and argued that preventing presidents from issuing a proclamation would “unfairly” restrict how they communicate with Americans.
The U.S. Congress established the day in 1952 and in 1988 set the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations asking Americans to pray. (BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at news developments impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals).