Each year, the first Thursday of May stirs up feelings of national patriotism, piety, and controversy as the president dedicates yet another National Day of Prayer.
American presidents have had a long history of calling on national days of fasting and prayer, beginning with the Continental Congress and continuing until the present day. All presidents, except Jefferson and Jackson, called for national days of prayer.
For some, this is the very reason for its discredit: it's just the presidential thing to do and has no real meaning. To others, it represents our nation being founded on godly principles. And still others contend that it is a violation of the separation of Church and State and a de facto endorsement of Christianity.The spectrum runs a full gamut -- from outright hostility on both sides of the extreme to varying degrees of apathy or adherence in the middle.
And this is the very reason we still need a National Day of Prayer -- to remember the fact that we don't always have to agree or partake of our fundamental rights as Americans to still live in peace.
The average atheist ought to be able to appreciate the fact that the earliest pilgrims came to this continent to practice religion freely -- AND -- the average religious person ought to be able to appreciate that prayers can be a very private, or even meaningless, part of another's life.
This isn't meant to downplay what both sides of the extreme see as legitimate gripes; with great rights come great responsibilities. Shouting fire in a theater or waving a gun (or knife) around in public is not without legal consequence -- and we often neglect to even consider the effects of both "freedom from religion" and "religious brandishing."
A National Day of Prayer forces us at least once a year to actually address and debate this divide. Our ability to peacefully debate is the best foreign and domestic policy statements we can make that the American system works.