Today in the National Day of Prayer.
Public prayer observances have been around since before this country began. History records several proclamations of setting aside days for fasting and prayer during Revolutionary War times and immediately after.
The National Day of Prayer as we know it dates from 1952, when President Harry Truman signed a joint resolution of Congress to "set aside and proclaim a suitable day each year, other than a Sunday, as a National Day of Prayer, on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation."
In his presidential proclamation, President Truman said the day was one "on which all of us, in our churches, in our homes, and in our hearts, may beseech God to grant us wisdom to know the course which we should follow, and strength and patience to pursue that course steadfastly. May we also give thanks to Him for His constant watchfulness over us in every hour of national prosperity and national peril."
The first National Day of Prayer was set for July 4, 1952. Since 1988 the date has been fixed as the first Thursday in May.
Of course, in today's society there are those who feel it is inappropriate that our country still recognizes the need for prayer. They see it as government sponsorship of religion. In some cases they treat it as a personal affront.
There have even been court challenges. Most recently the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit in 2008.
And they won the first round. In 2010 a federal judge ruled the plaintiffs had legal standing to file the suit--the government had argue they did not--and that the annual proclamation was unconstitutional, being "an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function."
But the U.S. Justice Department appealed and in 2011 the Seventh Circuit court of appeals unanimously overturned the ruling, saying that the presidential proclamation is a request, not an order and that no one is required to pray "any more than a person would be obliged to hand over his money if the President asked all citizens to support the Red Cross or other charities."
"From the earliest days of our history our people have been accustomed to turn to Almighty God for help and guidance," President Truman wrote in that first proclamation of a National Day of Prayer back in 1952.
Let us hope that it will always be thus.