And the People Said...Madison observes National Day of Prayer Thursday
Story by Kathryn Schiliro • Photos by Angelina Bellebuono
ast Thursday, in the burning, mid-afternoon sun, more than 50 people gathered at the steps of the Morgan County Courthouse. Milling about, talking in small groups, most tried to make their way into the shade provided by the structure's shadow.
Sweat accumulating on the collective brow, they bowed their heads, closed their eyes and prayed. In doing so, their voices joined others' across the nation in lifting their praise, thanks and requests up to the heavens.
Weeks before, in Madison, Wis., Judge Barbara Crabb of the United States District Court ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. The ruling was brought on by a lawsuit filed by Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF)—a group of atheists and agnostics, with a membership of 14,000-plus—that claimed the annual holiday violated the separation of church and state.
Part of her ruling, according to the FFRF Web site, Crabb found, "'The same law that prohibits the government from declaring a National Day of Prayer also prohibits it from declaring a National Day of Blasphemy'...Congress may no more declare a National Day of Prayer than it 'may encourage citizens to fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge or practice rune magic.'"
Despite this, President Obama signed the annual proclamation—which dates back to 1952 and President Harry S. Truman—declaring the National Day of Prayer as the first Thursday in May.
And in Madison, the observance of National Prayer Day on May 6—the first Thursday in May—went on unaffected, as though no one ever thought to do otherwise.
"I know some of you are aware that judge says [the National Day of Prayer] is illegal, unconstitutional," Rev. Dr. Gary Cecil, senior pastor at Madison Presbyterian Church, told the crowd. "I told my church members it may be...but it's still on my calendar."
Cecil pointed the annual observance as an opportunity to pray for America, the nation's leaders, those who serve in the United States Armed Forces and simply to give thanks.
"If that's unconstitutional, I don't know what to tell you," Cecil said.
He quoted Psalms 33. Then he prayed.
"We fail you when we neglect rights, restrict freedom," Cecil said. He went on to ask that Americans be a "united people," that governmental leaders be given a "spirit of wisdom."
Morgan County High School senior Emily DeJarnett led a sing-along of "God Bless America.
Pastor Hoke Smith, of Calvary Baptist Church, then took the microphone.
In signing the proclamation that made May 6, 2010 the National Day of Prayer, Smith said Obama "called upon the citizens of the nation to pray or otherwise give thanks."
He prayed for the people flooded in Tennesee, for the military, for resolution of the oil spill in the Gulf.
"God's continuous guidance and grace protect us as we meet the challenges before us," Smith said. "Allow us all to come together as a nation...so that we might help each other."
Asked of the importance of the day, Betty Edwards of New Hope Baptist in Greshamville just accepts the power of prayer.
"It just is. It's a way of life," Edwards said. "Everything we have comes from Him."
"We thought it is so important this time in our history to keep [prayer] strong," Maggie Bell, also of New Hope Baptist, said.
Pastor Stacey Carver, of Madison's Harvest Time Church, believes in the importance of the National Day of Prayer as a way for America's Christians, "by joining together publicly on the courthouse steps for everyone to see," to set an example.
"I feel like the Christians in our nation right now need to be bolder," Carver said.
Harvest Time member Avery Long echoed that sentiment.
"I'm not ashamed of the Lord."