In the early 1950s, when lawmakers were adding “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance and changing all American money to include the phrase “In God We Trust,” Congress also created an official annual Prayer Day for the nation. Congress, under pressure from the religious right, changed the law in 1988 to set the National Day of Prayer as the first Thursday in May.
That, of course, is today.
In fact, like every recent president, Donald Trump issued a prayer proclamation this morning, encouraging “all Americans to observe this day.” It read in part:
“On this National Day of Prayer, we join together to offer gratitude for our many blessings and to acknowledge our need for divine wisdom, guidance, and protection. Prayer, by which we affirm our dependence on God, has long been fundamental to our pursuit of freedom, peace, unity, and prosperity. Prayer sustains us and brings us comfort, hope, peace, and strength. Therefore, we must cherish our spiritual foundation and uphold our legacy of faith.”
Usually, this is about the time that I make the case that the very idea of a National Day of Prayer is at odds with our constitutional principles and that some of the nation’s most notable framers, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, thought declarations like these were a bad idea. If you’re looking for that argument, I’d refer you to a piece I wrote a few years ago.
Today, however, the circumstances are a little different. Indeed, what struck me as amazing as Trump’s prayer-day proclamation wasn’t its content, but rather, its context.
The president is, after all, a secular, thrice-married casino owner, who’s never really shown any interest in “our legacy of faith.” But more to the point, Trump is honoring the National Day of Prayer on the heels of his lawyer’s public acknowledgement that the president reimbursed his lawyer for a hush-money payoff to a porn star – and then apparently lied about it.
Or put another way, the White House’s timing on the prayer proclamation could’ve been better.