by JewsOnFirst.org, March 27, 2008
The National Day of Prayer Task Force, which has been controlled for the past several years by Focus on the Family and allied right-wing Christian evangelical groups, stages thousands of prayer ceremonies around the United States on the first Thursday in May -- May 1st this year -- from which it excludes clergy and leaders representing Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, and even moderate evangelical Christians.
A Task Force application document that coordinators of the day must sign states: "I commit that NDP [National Day of Prayer] activities I serve with will be conducted solely by Christians while those with differing beliefs are welcome to attend." (Emphasis added).
The Task Force calls itself "official" on its website (see screenshot below) and it instructs its coordinators to make their events appear to be official government functions, thus undermining the First Amendment's injunction against government-established religion.
In a document outlining the duties of its various levels of coordinators, the Task Force says that a duty of the state-level coordinator is to "[c]oordinate an observance at the State Capitol or in the [state capital] city that makes a public statement to the state government officials by being physically at the Capitol building and/or having them participate in the observance."
Statement of faith required
The local Task Force coordinators themselves, must sign a Christian statement of faith. According to the Task Force's coordinators website, coordinators must include in their application a "statement of faith, confirming your commitment to Christ." The text of the statement is as follows:
I believe that the Holy Bible is the inerrant Word of The Living God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only One by which I can obtain salvation and have an ongoing relationship with God. I believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, his virgin birth, his sinless life, his miracles, the atoning work of his shed blood, his resurrection and ascension, his intercession and his coming return to power and glory. I believe that those who follow Jesus are family and there should be unity among all who claim his name. I agree that these statements are true in my life.
In an apparent effort to blunt the impact of its discriminatory operation, the Task Force uses the term "Judeo-Christian" a couple of times on the "about" page of its website. But it never welcomes Jews, saying, in its Official Policy Statement on Participation of "Non-Judeo-Christian" groups in the National Day of Prayer (emphasis added):
The National Day of Prayer Task Force was a creation of the National Prayer Committee for the expressed purpose of organizing and promoting prayer observances conforming to a Judeo-Christian system of values. People with other theological and philosophical views are, of course, free to organize and participate in activities that are consistent with their own beliefs. This diversity is what Congress intended when it designated the Day of Prayer, not that every faith and creed would be homogenized, but that all who sought to pray for this nation would be encouraged to do so in any way deemed appropriate. It is that broad invitation to the American people that led, in our case, to the creation of the Task Force and the Judeo-Christian principles on which it is based.
Elsewhere on its "official" site (see screenshot below this report), the Task Force tosses aside the "Judeo" fig leaf. The Christian orientation of the organization is more explicit on its fundraising page, where it requests donations to "bring the name of Christ out from behind church walls and into the public frontlines of all 50 states" and to "[k]eep our Christian faith and religious freedom in the public square."
On another page, describing the day, the organization states, "Christian leaders address the current year's theme and other areas of interest (i.e. education, youth, families, etc.)."
Proclamations from every governor
President Harry Truman established the National Day of Prayer in the context of the Cold War. In the 1990s it was seized upon by the religious right. Last year, the Task Force bragged that it had obtained a proclamation of the day from every single governor. (Please see our report on last year's National Day of Prayer here.) This year, Republicans in Congress introduced legislation to establish the first week in May as "American Religious History Week" to recognize what they claim to be the "religious foundation" of the United States.
The current chair of the Task Force, Shirley Dobson, is the wife of Focus on the Family Chairman James Dobson. According to the Task Force website, the group "is housed in the Focus on the Family headquarters for convenience, so long as Mrs. Dobson remains the Chairman." In an apparent effort to distance the groups from each other, the website says that the business affairs of the two groups are separate, "and Focus on the Family is compensated for services rendered."
Last year the Dobsons observed the National Day of Prayer at the White House with President Bush.
ANNOUNCEMENT: April 17, 2008. For the past month, JewsOnFirst.org has been directing an "under-the-radar" campaign against religious discrimination by the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a group linked to Focus on the Family that controls the National Day of Prayer. Our Campaign for an Inclusive National Day of Prayer has grown to involve dozens of religious, civil rights and social justice organizations. Please join the campaign, by visiting the website of the Campaign for an Inclusive National Day of Prayer.