America Prays Together. That’s What Our Nation Has Always Done.

May 3, 2024
National Day of Prayer 2024 | First Liberty Insider

by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read

On Thursday, Americans observed the National Day of Prayer.

The National Day of Prayer is designated by Congress and held on the first Thursday of May, when people are asked “to turn to God in prayer and meditation.”

Many opponents argue that the National Day of Prayer violates the “separation of Church and State.” They even tried to challenge it in court, only to be defeated. The fact is, governments commissioning days of prayer are constitutional, as they are part of America’s history and traditions. We are a nation founded on religious freedom, and public prayer is one of the most fundamental ways of exercising this sacred right.

In our most troubling and difficult times as a nation, Americans unite in prayer, asking God for guidance, favor and deliverance. In times of great victory and triumph, we also pause to pray and thank God for His blessings. This was true at the inception of our country, and is still true, today.

National days of prayer date back to the Revolutionary Era. In 1775, less than two months after the Battles of Lexington and Concord and “the shot heard ‘round the world,” the Continental Congress declared Thursday, July 12 to “be observed by the inhabitants of all the English Colonies on this Continent, as a Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer.”

December 1777 was one of the bleakest times for the Continental Army. They’d won few battles and morale was low. It was at this critical juncture when Gen. George Washington took a knee in what’s known as the “Prayer at Valley Forge.” A man of faith, the Father of Our Country was known for going to God in prayer when he, his troops and our fledgling nation faced a crisis.

During the Civil War, President Lincoln declared March 30, 1863 a national day of prayer. “We have become…too proud to pray to the God that made us!” Lincoln said at the time “It behooves us then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins.” He delivered his Second Inaugural Address in 1865 to a broken nation:

“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet if God wills that it continues… until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword…so still it must be said that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Just before the D-Day invasion of Normandy in WWII, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a radio address to the nation. His words on June 6, 1944 took on the form of a prayer:

“Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity…Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell…a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.”

When WWII ended, President Truman declared in a day of prayer, August 16, 1945: “This is the end of the…schemes of dictators to enslave the peoples of the world…Our global victory…has come with the help of God…Let us…dedicate ourselves to follow in His ways.”

Although the legislation passed in 1952, it wasn’t until 1988 that President Reagan signed a law proclaiming, “the First Thursday in May in each year, as a National Day of Prayer, on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.” Every president since has signed a proclamation doing so—honoring our longstanding tradition of praying together as a nation.

In his most recent proclamation, President Biden wrote:

“The right to pray is enshrined in our Constitution and stamped firmly in the American tradition. The belief that prayer can move mountains is, at its core, a belief in making the impossible possible. There is nothing more American than believing in the endless possibilities of what we can do when we do it together.”

We often hear that our nation is growing increasingly secular. There’s no denying we live in a hostile culture in which opponents of faith are doing everything possible to ridicule, or even strip away, our right to pray and to publicly express our faith.

Don’t let that discourage you. Despite these attacks, America remains a nation that prays.

A 2023 poll found that 85% of Americans actively seek a connection with the Divine. And the most common way they’re doing it? Prayer. To put it another way, those who pray spend about 18 minutes praying daily. According to that poll, that means Americans spend 3.6 billion minutes each day praying.

We may disagree on a lot of things. We may be divided on politics, legislation and who the next President should be. But there’s one that most Americans do appear to agree on: we’re a nation that values prayer and the free exercise of religion.

Prayer is powerful. Let’s continue praying for our nation and seeking God’s guidance.

Learn More:

National Day of Prayer Task Force: History of Prayer in America

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