In 1952, when Harry Truman called for a National Day of Prayer, now celebrated annually on the first Thursday of May, it was meant to encourage Americans of all faiths to pray with one another in whatever way felt best to them. It would be an ecumenical celebration of faith that would draw people together in common religious and spiritual contemplation. One can only imagine what Truman would think of this year's event, the planning for which has been marred by bitter squabbling over who should be allowed to participate.
Shirley Dobson, wife of James Dobson, the conservative founder of Focus on the Family, is this year's chairperson of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a non-governmental organization based in Focus on the Family's offices in Colorado Springs and charged with organizing various events. According to Jay Keller, national field director of the Interfaith Alliance, Dobson has made a point of "excluding Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists, and even mainline Christians" from the National Day of Prayer.
Thanks to Dobson, this year's task force volunteers are required to sign pledges, stating: "I commit that NDP activities I serve with will be conducted solely by Christians while those of differing beliefs are welcome to attend." Volunteers must also affirm that they "believe that the Holy Bible is the inerrant Word of The Living God" and 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." Such oaths violate the non-sectarian nature of the National Day of Prayer and clearly align "a government-sponsored event with a particular Christian denomination, in violation of the basic provisions of the First Amendment to the Constitution," says Keller.