'national Day Of Prayer' Events Politicize Religion, Divide Country, Says Americans United

Dobsons, Politicians Are Using Religion To Further Political Agenda, Church-State Watchdog Group Charges

Religious Right leaders and politicians are using the National Day of Prayer (NDP) to politicize religion and divide Americans, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The annual event, which takes place by federal law on the first Thursday of each May, gives Religious Right groups and their allies in public office a platform to push their political agenda, Americans United charges.

In recent years, religious broadcaster James Dobson and his wife Shirley have assumed a leadership role in promoting the observance. Dobson’s Focus on the Family and Focus on the Family Action are Religious Right organizations that oppose church-state separation and seek to impose a fundamentalist Christian viewpoint through government action.

“James Dobson has shamelessly exploited the National Day of Prayer to advance his divisive political agenda,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “This merger of religion and politics is exactly what our nation’s founding fathers hoped to avoid.”

Lynn noted that James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, said governmental prayer proclamations “certainly nourish the erroneous idea of a national religion” and warned that public officials would use such proclamations to advance their political agenda. Thomas Jefferson, as president, refused to issue prayer proclamations and said the Constitution forbids the federal government from “intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises.” 

Lynn added that most NDP activities are now coordinated by the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a private group headed by Shirley Dobson. This year, as in years past, the NDP Task Force is distributing materials promoting an inaccurate “Christian nation” view of history and distorting federal court rulings upholding church-state separation.

Lynn noted that this year, Mrs. Dobson even boasts about her group sponsoring the “National Day of Prayer Official Website,” although she does not say who gave the group this designation.  (The Dobsons usually travel to the White House for an NDP observance there with President George W. Bush, although Bush has not given the NDP Task Force an official character.)

The NDP Task Force encourages local groups to exclude non-fundamentalist Christians from NDP events. The NDP Web site goes so far as to assert that only Christian groups that endorse the Lausanne Covenant, an evangelical statement from the 1970s, should be invited to take part.

“The Dobsons’ events are deeply divisive,” said Lynn. “They intentionally exclude millions of Americans who differ with the Religious Right’s narrow religious and political agenda.”

Continued Lynn, “Rather than make a big public display of piety, politicians would do better to use May 4 to rededicate themselves to the spirit of the First Amendment and oppose those forces that do not value religious diversity and religious liberty.”

(Note to News Media: An Americans United FAQ and other information about the National Day of Prayer are available on request.)

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.