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Trump’s National Day of Prayer Follows Tradition of Washington, Lincoln, and Reagan

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President Donald Trump’s proclamation for Sunday, September 3rd to be a National Day of Prayer for the victims of Hurricane Harvey is following the footsteps of traditions first established by former President George Washington, continued by many Presidents including Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, as well as being ratified by Congress.

In the first words uttered by the first President of the United States, Washington declared in his first Inaugural Address:

“No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States.”

It’s therefore not at all surprising that the first Congress passed a resolution on September 25, 1789, calling on Washington to proclaim a National Day of Prayer. Then, a proclamation to all Americans for November 26, 1789, to be a day to “offer our prayers and supplications to the Great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions.” Washington’s proclamation encourages Americans to pray in their churches and homes on the designated day writing:

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful to his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor.”

John Adams succeeded Washington, and also proclaimed a day in 1798, and again in 1799, to “be observed throughout the United States as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer.”

Along with being America’s 4th president, James Madison — the primary author of the Constitution — issued four proclamations for National Days of Prayer. On March 30, 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer, which began:

“Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men to owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord. I do hereby request all the people to abstain on that day from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite at their several places of public worship and their respective homes in keeping the day holy to the Lord and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.”

This tradition continued for decades, until 1952, when Congress enacted a statute calling for the president to proclaim a National Day of Prayer once a year. President Reagan signed amendments to the 1952 law in 1988, making the first Thursday of each May the National Day of Prayer for all Americans.

However, many presidents have proclaimed days of prayer besides the one in May, usually after national tragedies like what President George W. Bush did after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

On September 1, President Trump issued a proclamation:

“Now, therefore, I, Donald J. Trump, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim September 3, 2017, as a National Day of Prayer for the Victims of Hurricane Harvey and for our National Response and Recovery Efforts. We give thanks for the generosity and goodness of all those who have responded to the needs of their fellow Americans. I urge Americans of all faiths and religious traditions and backgrounds to offer prayers today for all those harmed by Hurricane Harvey, including people who have lost family members or been injured, those who have lost homes or other property, and our first responders, law enforcement officers, military personnel, and medical professionals leading the response and recovery efforts. Each of us, in our own way, may call upon our God for strength and comfort during this difficult time. I call on all Americans and houses of worship throughout the Nation to join in one voice of prayer, as we seek to uplift one another and assist those suffering from the consequences of this terrible storm.”

Of course, liberals claim and protest that National Days of Prayer violate the Establishment Clause, a provision of the Constitution’s First Amendment saying the government shall not establish a religion.

But as the Supreme Court reaffirmed as recently as its seminal 2014 case Town of Greece v. Galloway, all the Establishment Clause forbids is the government officially adopting a national religion or coercing Americans to participate in a religious activity that violates their conscience.

In this context, ordering Americans to attend church to pray this Sunday and threatening them with federal prison if they refuse would violate the Establishment Clause, but issuing a proclamation that encourages all Americans who are willing to offer prayers that accord with their individual conscience is entirely constitutional.

 

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