Another National Day of Prayer has come and gone, but it hasn’t stopped ill-informed judges from trying to rewrite our nation’s history. “A Colorado appeals court ruled last week that the state governors’ previous proclamations regarding the National Day of Prayer were unconstitutional as they implied a ‘government endorsement of religion over nonreligion.’”
This isn’t the first time wayward judges have displayed their ignorance of history and the meaning of the Constitution. Wisconsin U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb ruled that “the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience. . . . The government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual’s decision whether and when to pray.” She and the Colorado judges need a history lesson from the Founders who drafted the First Amendment and also called for national days of prayer and thanksgiving.
In 1789, the same day the wording of the First Amendment had been finalized, Congress called on President Washington to declare a national day of prayer and thanksgiving. The proclamation stated that “it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.”
John Adams, in his 1798 Proclamation, stated something similar:
[T]he safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and blessing of Almighty God; and the national acknowledgment of this truth is . . . an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him.
Then there are the official documents that called for national days of prayer. On March 16, 1776, “by order of Congress” a “day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer” where people of the nation were called on to “acknowledge the over ruling providence of God” and bewail their “manifold sins and transgressions, and, by a sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his righteous displeasure, and, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness.”1
[get_product id=”71″ align=”right” size=”small”]Congress set aside December 18, 1777 as a day of thanksgiving so the American people “may express the grateful feelings of their hearts and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor” and on which they might “join the penitent confession of their manifold sins . . . that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance.” Congress also recommended that Americans petition God “to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consists in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.”2
Here’s a proclamation from 1799, more than ten years after the Constitution was drafted, during the administration of John Adams:
[That April 15, 1799] be observed throughout the United States of America as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that the citizens on that day abstain, as far as may be, from their secular occupation, and devote the time to the sacred duties of religion, in public and in private; that they call to mind our numerous offenses against the most high God, confess them before Him with the sincerest penitence, implore his pardoning mercy, through the Great Mediator and Redeemer, for our past transgressions, and that through the grace of His Holy Spirit, we may be disposed and enabled to yield a more suitable obedience to his righteous requisitions in time to come; that He would interpose to arrest the progress of that impiety and licentiousness in principle and practice so offensive to Himself and so ruinous to mankind; that He would make us deeply sensible that “righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people [Proverbs 14:34].”3
National days of prayer and thanksgiving have been a part of our nation’s history before its founding, during its founding, and since its founding.
If the above judges don’t know this history, they shouldn’t be judges. If they do know this history and don’t account for it, they shouldn’t be judges.
- A copy of the original document can be viewed at www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/f0404s.jpg(↩)
- A copy of the original document can be viewed at www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/vc006494.jpg. The proclamation can also be seen in Gary DeMar, America’s Christian History (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2005), 252.(↩)
- John Adams, “National Fast Day,” A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1:284–286.(↩)