National Day of Prayer: Alive, Well and Legal in Tennessee

National Day of Prayer celebrations are perfectly legal in Tennessee, despite a recent court ruling in Wisconsin. That means any mayor or city or county council in Tennessee is free to officially recognize the National Day of Prayer, even in government-owned facilities.

Considering the current state of affairs in Washington and across the country, the National Day of Prayer, scheduled this year for Thursday, May 6, is more important than ever. The day has deep roots in our nation’s history to which some organizations would like to lay the axe.

This annual event, which reminds citizens of the value of uniting in prayer for our country and its leaders, goes back to 1775 when the Continental Congress issued a resolution calling for a public day of prayer. In 1952, President Truman signed into law a resolution by Congress to set aside a day each year as a “National Day of Prayer,” and then in 1988, the law was amended by Congress during President Reagan’s term to make that day the first Thursday in May. Thus a national day of thanksgiving and prayer has been an essential part of our country’s heritage and culture. Historically, all 50 governors have issued proclamations in honor of this day.

Some Are Trying to Intimidate Those Who Pray

Not surprisingly, those who would like nothing better than to remove all vestiges of Christianity from our country try hard each year to prevent this event from happening by disseminating false and misleading information to governmental officials. Among other things, atheists and activist groups attempt to convince our state and local government leaders that recognizing this important day is illegal and violates the Constitution.

However, now they have taken their attack on this event to another level. The Freedom from Religion Foundation filed suit in a federal court in Wisconsin to have the law setting aside the first day in May declared unconstitutional as an establishment of religion. And last week, a federal judge ruled in its favor. At this time, we are waiting to see if the U.S. Justice Department will appeal the ruling. You can learn more about the history and legal precedent involved from the Rutherford Institute.

However, that decision is not binding in Tennessee. So there is nothing illegal or unconstitutional in a mayor or city or county council in Tennessee officially recognizing the National Day of Prayer. Furthermore, if a city or county allows a government-owned facility to be used by private groups and organizations for nongovernmental purposes, then use of that facility generally cannot be withheld for observances of the National Day of Prayer.

Tennessee Should Lead the Way in Invoking God’s Protection

In his Farewell Address in 1796, President Washington gave our country sage advice when he said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. [T]he mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and cherish them.” Public officials throughout Tennessee should lead the way in invoking God’s protection and guidance over our state by issuing proclamations supporting the National Day of Prayer.

Please encourage your mayor, city council members, county commissioners, and other elected officials to do so. And if they encounter objections or threats of litigation by individuals or groups opposed to this lawful exercise of governmental authority, or to the use of courthouses, county meeting rooms, and other public places for citizens to gather and pray together on May 6, please do not hesitate to contact the Family Action Council of Tennessee or our friends at the Alliance Defense Fund.