Obama and the National Day of Prayer: A Myth

President Cancels Event, Email Claims

President Obama and First Lady attending National Day of Prayer ceremony
President Obama Attends National Prayer Service. Brooks Kraft / Getty Images

Numerous widely circulated emails claim President Barack Obama refused to recognize, and even canceled, the National Day of Prayer after taking office in January of 2009.

The rumors are just that: rumors.

And yet the misinformation continues on its viral path across the Internet.

"Oh Our wonderful president is at it again .... he has cancelled the national day of prayer that is held at the white house every year ....

sure glad I wasn't fooled into voting for him!" one such email begins.

"This is chilling," starts a similar message. "In 1952 President Truman established one day a year as a National Day of Prayer. In 1988 President Reagan designated the First Thursday in May of each year as the National Day of Prayer."

So far so good.

But the message loses steam quickly.

"In June 2007 (then) Presidential Candidate Barack Obama declared that the USA Was no longer a Christian nation. This year President Obama canceled the 21st annual National Day of Prayer ceremony at the White House under the ruse Of 'not wanting to offend anyone.'"

Both emails are flat-out wrong.

Obama Recognizes National Day of Prayer

Obama issued proclamations setting the National Day of Prayer in both 2009 and 2010.

  • The May 2009 proclamation read, in part:

"Our world grows smaller by the day, and our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife; and to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. As we observe this day of prayer, we remember the one law that binds all great religions together: the Golden Rule, and its call to love one another; to understand one another; and to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth."

  • The April 2010 proclamation read, in part:

"We are blessed to live in a Nation that counts freedom of conscience and free exercise of religion among its most fundamental principles, thereby ensuring that all people of goodwill may hold and practice their beliefs according to the dictates of their consciences. Prayer has been a sustaining way for many Americans of diverse faiths to express their most cherished beliefs, and thus we have long deemed it fitting and proper to publicly recognize the importance of prayer on this day across the Nation."

History of the National Day of Prayer

In 1952, evangelist Billy Graham led a six week religious campaign in Washington, D.C. that ended with a call for a national day of prayer.

"Ladies and gentlemen, our Nation was founded upon God, religion and the church ... What a thrilling, glorious thing it would be to see the leaders of our country today kneeling before Almighty God in prayer," Graham said. "What a thrill would sweep this country."

Afterward, U.S. Rep. Percy Priest of Tennessee introduced a bill to establish a National Day of Prayer. Congress passed the bill in April.

The law initially read:

"The President shall set aside and proclaim a suitable day each year, other than a Sunday, as a National Day of Prayer, on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals."

But the provision was revised by Congress in May of 1988. The current version of the law states:

"The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals."

In April of 2010, however, a federal judge in Wisconsin ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, finding that the congressionally mandated event amounts to an unconstitutional call for religious action.

"In fact, it is because the nature of prayer is so personal and can have such a powerful effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual's decision whether and when to pray," U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote in her opinion.

The White House challenged the ruling.

Every president since 1952 has issued a proclamation designating the National Day of Prayer.

And yes, that includes Obama - despite what you read on the Internet.