Washington, DC – In advance of the National Day of Prayer, celebrated this year on Thursday May 1, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, the president Interfaith Alliance, sent the following letter to President Obama and the governors of every state. In this letter, Rev. Gaddy called on each of the governors and the President to respect Americans of all faiths, and those of no faith tradition, in their National Day of Prayer celebrations. Interfaith Alliance also cautioned against partnering with the so-called National Day of Prayer Task Force whose events systematically exclude Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus and even some mainline Protestant Christians.
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
April 24, 2014
Dear President Obama,
On behalf of the Interfaith Alliance, an organization committed to defending religious freedom whose members represent more than 75 faith traditions, I am writing to request that you ensure that your observance of the National Day of Prayer is welcoming to clergy and believers of all religions, as well as to those who profess no religion. This celebration, mandated by an act of Congress, has too often been dominated by religious extremists who define religion by exclusion. In a nation already deeply divided, we should work together to make this year’s National Day of Prayer, held on May 1, a reflection of both our nation’s diversity of religious belief and its commitment to religious freedom. This day presents a great opportunity for us to demonstrate that religion can be a healing and reconciling force in our nation, but I fear that opportunity will be lost if the message of the day is defined by leaders from the religious right working for a Christian Nation. I commend you for the intentional and inclusive way that you have marked this day in the past, and I urge you to do the same this year.
I am compelled to make this request because, several years ago, the National Day of Prayer was taken over by a group of religious exclusivists led by Shirley Dobson of Focus on the Family. Dobson’s group calls itself the “official” National Day of Prayer Task Force yet it has no official relationship with the government and it systematically excludes Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus and even some mainline Protestant Christians from National Prayer Day events it conducts around the United States.
Moreover, The National Day of Prayer Task Force requires volunteer coordinators to sign a statement of faith which includes the following language: ” I believe that the Holy Bible is the inspired, only, infallible, authoritative Word of The Living God. That there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit… That for salvation of lost and sinful men and women, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.” Government sanction of the Task Force’s work clearly aligns a government-sponsored event with a particular Christian denomination, in violation of the basic provisions of the First Amendment to the Constitution, establishing the separation of church and state.
I respectfully ask that you decline to participate in events sponsored by, or issue a separate proclamation to, the National Day of Prayer Task Force. This group has a record of using proclamations from and the participation of elected officials to raise the status of events in which they discriminate against and exclude clergy who represent faith traditions other than fundamentalist evangelical Christianity.
Indeed, I implore you to use your power of proclamation on this National Day of Prayer to restore it to what President Harry Truman intended when he signed it into law in 1952. Use your proclamation to bring together Americans of every religion and no religion, to express their faith in whatever way is appropriate for them. I urge you to issue a single proclamation for the day that calls for an inclusive National Day of Prayer that reflects our nation’s rich tradition of religious pluralism by explicitly inviting clergy from diverse faith traditions to participate equally and fully — especially in events held on government property.
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy