National Day of Prayer Marked After Court Throws Out Constitutionality Challenge

By Penny Starr | May 5, 2011 | 5:27 PM EDT

Students form the Antioch Christian Academy join hands as they pray during a National Day of Prayer gathering at City Hall, Thursday, May 5, 2011, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

( – Governors of all 50 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have signed proclamations supporting the 60th annual National Day of Prayer, celebrated on Capitol Hill and at venues across the country on Thursday, according to the National Day of Prayer Task Force.

President Harry S. Truman officially recognized the National Day of Prayer in 1952. Legislation signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 established the first Thursday in May as the date for the event.

Task force chairwoman Shirley Dobson said a cloud hung over the annual event because of a lawsuit, first filed by the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation in 2008, asserting that it was unconstitutional for the president to proclaim a day of prayer because it violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution by “establishing” an official state religion.

The foundation first named President George W. Bush and White House press secretary Dana Perino as defendants in the suit and later replaced them with President Barack Obama and his then press secretary, Robert Gibbs.

Last year, Judge Barbara Crabb of the U.S. District Court for the Western district of Wisconsin ruled in favor of the foundation. But a year later, a federal appeals court overturned the ruling and dismissed the case.

A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on April 14 that the foundation did not have standing to sue because even if the group disagrees with the president’s proclamation, it has not caused harm.

Two weeks after the ruling, the White House issued Obama’s National Prayer Day proclamation, citing the historic significance of the occasion.

“It is thus fitting that, from the earliest years of our country’s history, Congress and Presidents have set aside days to recognize the role prayer has played in so many definitive moments in our history,” the proclamation said. “On this National Day of Prayer, let us follow the example of President Lincoln and Dr. King.

“Let us be thankful for the liberty that allows people of all faiths to worship or not worship according to the dictates of their conscience, and let us be thankful for the many other freedoms and blessings that we often take for granted.”

At a three-hour worship service in the in the Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill on Thursday, guests and members of Congress prayed for the executive branch, legislators and Supreme Court judges. Prayers were also said for all branches of the U.S. military.