This Thursday, May 2, 2013, is the 62nd annual National Day of Prayer. The theme for this national day is Pray for America. It is an annual occasion, outside of the Sabbath we attend, to invite people of all faiths to pray for our nation. It is a day that we can set aside our political divisions and discussions and call upon our Creator who is the ultimate authority over all governments and positions of authority. The mere notion of setting aside a day of prayer is a reflection of religious freedom and our First Amendment that makes this country so unique. However, as churches, groups and individuals choose to honor this day in prayer the question needs to be asked, “Are we still one nation under God?”
Perhaps to answer this question we need to back track through history. Historical revisionists have tried to erase the Founders’ faith in God in creating our country and in building a free society. Many have claimed that Christians today have hijacked the Constitution as a document that claims faith in governing over secular rule. Perhaps the best example they use against this theory is Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1801, where he uses the phrase “separation of church and state”. Even faith believing people misuse this phrase and understand it as government needs protection from religion. In fact, the phrase means the exact opposite. The best way to frame the phrase is religion should be protected from the government. The Founding Fathers understood the power of tyranny and governing bodies over a people. They also knew that religion and faith were the cornerstones of freedom.
The best way to understand how freedom is closely tied to a belief in God is too take a world view of countries that do not hold this belief. There are many countries that hold to a religious view but it is mandated by their government and there is no freedom to choose their faith. There are governments that choose your religion and those that object are punished. Faith is practiced but it is not free and it ultimately makes an un-free society. America does have this freedom and we take for granted that we are able to walk into any house of faith we choose and worship our God, or not worship at all, without government restrictions. However, faith is not merely the building you worship in but it is also the way of life you choose. Our nation seems to be blurring the lines of one nation free under God versus free under government rule.
Where have the lines been blurred? The recent example is with the Affordable Care Act’s Health and Human Services mandate that all religious entities provide contraception and abortion services. This HHS mandate is a threat to religious freedom and expression. Another example is the case of legally redefining marriage to include gay marriage. Some don’t understand the ramifications of allowing marriage to be redefined but the threat against religious establishments in invoking who can and cannot marry is also a threat to religious freedom.
The lines have also been blurred in not allowing the name of God and the use of prayer to be used freely. Three years ago the National Day of Prayer was threatened by The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) which brought a legal case against the law for a national day of prayer. A federal judge found the day unconstitutional but a federal appeals court eventually overturned the ruling. This same foundation is now challenging the phrase “In God We Trust” on our nation’s currency. They claim, “Our government is prohibited from endorsing one religion over another but also from endorsing religion over non-religion”. The very fact that our government and judicial courts entertains these objections to religious expressions shows how far we as a nation have come from understanding our freedom of religion.
So while many will take the opportunity to pray for our nation this Thursday it is important to frame the fact that it is a day that the people of the United States may turn to God at their choosing. There is no government mandate or restrictions to pray from a certain church, religion or in a certain way. What makes this day so unique is that our nation gives us as individuals the privilege to acknowledge our concerns for this country to the God of our faith and pray. It allows us as a society to establish the fact that many of us as Americans still claim “We are one Nation under God”. Ronald Reagan stated in his 1981 National Day of Prayer proclamation, “Our Nation’s motto “In God We Trust”- was not chosen lightly. It reflects a basic recognition that there is a divine authority in the universe to which the Nation owes homage”.
However, it is also my personal belief that as we bow before our Creator in prayer that we also pray for the continuation of this nation to allow freedom to reign with religious conviction. That those in leadership would understand that the heart of this country was formed from faith and faith has provided our freedoms. These freedoms have been attacked and threatened by the very government that once declared that “we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights”. My prayer on this National Day of Prayer will be that these freedoms will no longer be threatened but I can declare that my God reigns not only within my heart but I can continue to declare it in the country which I live in.