A nation founded in prayer

Published 10:14 pm Friday, May 3, 2013

By Congressman J. Randy Forbes

The greatness of a nation comes from its foundation. Thursday marked the 62nd annual observance of the National Day of Prayer, and there is no more appropriate time to acknowledge the action that has most shaped our country — prayer.

The foundation of America, from the Revolution to the Constitutional Convention, was steeped in prayer. When the first Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1774, its first act was to ask a minister to open in prayer.


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As our war-tattered nation was struggling to hold fast in the wake of the fight for freedom and the members of the Constitutional Congress found themselves in a quagmire of fighting and disagreements, they turned to prayer.

Benjamin Franklin called on the members to begin each meeting in prayer, famously stating: “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the House they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel.”

Only after the members heeded Mr. Franklin’s advice was the world’s greatest founding document, the Constitution, born out of the ashes of war and disagreement.

Presidential recognition of the vital role of prayer to the continuance of our freedoms has a strong pedigree. As our nation was on the verge of splitting in half in 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed a national day of prayer, that “the united cry of the nation will be heard on high and answered with blessings no less than the pardon of our national sins and the restoration of our now divided and suffering country to its former happy condition of unity and peace.”

On the eve of D-Day in 1944 as General Eisenhower and his troops carried out the perilous invasion of Normandy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt led the nation in prayer. Since the inauguration of President Washington in 1789, there have been well over 250 presidential calls to prayer.

The first National Day of Prayer as we now know it was passed by Congress on April 17, 1952, and called for the President to “set aside and proclaim a suitable day each year . . . on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.” On May 9, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the current version of the law, calling on the President to issue a proclamation each year designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer.

Today, we stand at another critical moment in our nation’s history. We must decide whether we will continue to honor the principles on which our nation was founded or allow our religious freedoms to be squelched in the wake of a cultural shift that champions equality and tolerance, even as it continues to silence the voice of faith everywhere except the most private of places.

Let us continue to build on the foundation laid for us in faith by our Founding Fathers and join together in prayer for our leaders, for our communities, and for our spiritual welfare. Let us stand up and defend our heritage, so that all who follow in our footsteps will find we were faithful to the God who blessed our nation because it was founded in prayer.

Congressman Forbes is Founder and Co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus.