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defending the First Amendment against the Christian right ...

Jews On First!

... because if Jews don't speak out, they'll think we don't mind

May 4, 2007. Coverage of the day's activities is here.

National Day of Prayer Proves to Be a Subsidiary of Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family leader mounts attack on New York governor to force him to issue a proclamation

by JewsOnFirst.org, May 1, 2007

Major figures on the Christian Right are pulling out all the stops to simulate an official, government-endorsed national prayer day scheduled for Thursday, May 3rd.

Focus on the Family, regarded as the nation's most powerful religious right group, effectively controls the day's events, according to news reports and interfaith non-profits.

On Monday, Focus on the Family Chairman James Dobson thanked his followers for successfully badgering New York Governor Eliot Spitzer into becoming the 50th governor to sign a proclamation for the National Day of Prayer.

Dobson's wife chairs the self-appointed National Day of Prayer Task Force. The group is organizing prayer events in and near official buildings and schools to give the impression of government-endorsed religion. Interlinked websites promoting this year's event (listed on the task force home page pictured here) also include web pages on evangelizing military personnel. We've provided examples and links at the end of this report.

One of the interlinked websites operated by the pseudo-official Presidential Prayer Team promotes a "National Observance" from Washington DC, bidding the public to: "[j]oin with us as we celebrate America's 56th annual National Day of Prayer from our nation's capitol." James Dobson will be one of the presenters.

Purposeful exclusion of other faith traditions
According to the Texas Freedom Network, whose educational fund produced a research report on the prayer day in 2005, the task force is "essentially an arm of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family" and the events it sponsors "purposefully exclude participation by people of other faith traditions."

In a statement issued last week the Texas Freedom Network warned that the task force -- "sometimes with the tacit approval and support of elected local and national officials – uses the day to promote 'culture war' battles that divide, rather than unite, our nation."

Indeed, the task force requires coordinators of local prayer day events to sign an explicitly Christian statement of faith "confirming your commitment to Christ."

Both the Salt Lake Tribune and the Colorado Springs Gazette report that non-Christians participants have been turned away from events. The Gazette interviewed a woman who says she is no longer allowed to be an coordinator because she invited people of other faiths to participate in an event she organized.

The National Day of Prayer Task Force website has a dismissive item entitled "Official Policy Statement on Participation of 'Non-Judeo-Christian' groups in the National Day of Prayer." The "official" policy is that these "non" religious groups should organize their own, presumably unofficial events.

Focus On the Family attack on Governor Spitzer
The appending of "Judeo" like a fig leaf over sectarian, right-wing evangelical Christianity, is particularly insolent in light of James Dobson's harassment campaign against New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. Dobson's message about Spitzer had a distinctly anti-Jewish edge.

On April 27, Dobson emailed his supporters and posted on his CitizenLink website this message:

We want to make you aware of a slap in the face the governor of New York has delivered to people of faith all across the country.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer – who just a few days ago promised to sign a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in his state, should one land on his desk – apparently has refused to sign a proclamation supporting Thursday’s observance of the National Day of Prayer. The governors of the other 49 states have already issued such proclamations, acknowledging the need for America to unite in prayer. How arrogant that the governor of New York, which was the target of the vicious and unprovoked attacks on 9/11, does not believe the people of his state need divine guidance and protection.

Won’t you take a minute or two – no matter what state you live in – to let Gov. Spitzer know what you think about his refusal to acknowledge the National Day of Prayer? Remind him that this country was founded as a Christian nation – and he will insult and offend millions if he continues down the path he is on.

Scant news coverage of Christian Right's takeover of prayer day
Moderate Christians, Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others who, in past years participated in prayer day events, are critical of the religious right's takeover of the event. Among the critics is the Interfaith Alliance which represents mainstream faith traditions.

"For Focus on the Family to claim that its website is the official website of the National Day of Prayer is highly irresponsible,” said the alliance's spokesman William Blake. “Could you imagine if the Sierra Club claimed that its website was the official website of Earth Day? The American people deserve to know the truth about this scheme.”

But the American people are unlikely to learn about the religious right's takeover because, to date, no national newspaper or network has exposed it. The Salt Lake Tribune published a story Friday about the exclusion of non-fundamentalist Christians by the Focus on the Family-dominated National Day of Prayer Task Force. And on Saturday the Gazette in Colorado Springs, where Focus on the Family is based, wrote in some detail about the takeover and noted the religious right political agenda for which prayers were crafted.

Accessible extremism
There is not much mystery, should the national media come looking. The extremism of the groups participating and their agendas are immediately evident on web pages linking from the home page of the "official website" of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. The links on the lower right quarter of the page go to a network of websites showcasing other Christian Right groups.

Most notable among these is the "Military Ministry" link found in the left margin of the Task Force's military page, a few inches above the Oliver North link. Military Ministry is one of the many innocuously named operations of Campus Crusade for Christ. (More here)

A click on the "Evangelism and Discipleship" menu item brings up a video in which the speaker says: "Military Ministry’s first strategic objective is to Evangelize and Disciple All Enlisted Members of the US Military. We seek to provide every uniformed son and daughter of America with an anchor for the soul through Jesus Christ. This process begins at the recruit training bases…boot camps…where new troops are transformed physically, mentally, and ideally… spiritually."

The schools link offers a curriculum with a "Christian worldview" by David Barton, a religious right leader who argues that the US was founded as a Christian nation. The schools link also offers a kit to organize a prayer day at school and an "adopt-a-leader" program, which encourages children to pray for their political leaders.

We have assembled quotes from some of those websites below.


National Day of Prayer Task Force
Turning a Day of Faith into a Rally for the Christian Right

Texas Freedom Network, April 2007

Although originally established by Congress in 1952 as a day of prayer for people of all faiths, in recent years the National Day of Prayer has been co-opted by the religious right to advance a politicized, sectarian agenda. This is due in large part to a deceptive and deliberate strategy executed by the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a private organization that explicitly excludes participation by any non-Christian group in its programs.

Although the NDP Task force has no recognized standing with any governmental body, its Web site bills itself as the “official” Web site of the National Day of Prayer. Further, the group’s extensive organizing efforts at the federal, state and local level have established it as the de facto national sponsor. This is evidenced by widespread endorsement in the media and, more alarmingly, by state and local governments. Continue reading this summary, which includes links to a 2005 report on the prayer day by the Texas Freedom Network's Educational Fund.

Day of Prayer: Our way or the highway?

Peggy Fletcher Stack, The Salt Lake Tribune, April 27, 2007

Next week's National Day of Prayer was once a symbol of American unity and faith in God that transcended boundaries.

In recent years, though, the decades-old tradition has become mired in divisions.

Across the nation, most celebrations are organized by and for evangelical Christians, with others choosing to host alternative services. Believers from Muncie, Ind., to Oklahoma City to Troy, Mich., and Salt Lake City have added more inclusive events, with participation across the spiritual spectrum.

The holiday began in 1775 when the Continental Congress asked Americans to pray for guidance as it was trying to birth a nation. Abraham Lincoln called for a day of "humiliation, fasting and prayer" in 1863. Nearly a century later, Harry Truman made it an annual event, and in 1988, Ronald Reagan set aside the first Thursday in May so citizens could join in worship across all religious boundaries. Continue.

Day to Pray
National event set aside for all, but evangelicals play the lead role

Paul Asay, The Colorado Springs Gazette, April 28, 2007

Anyone can pray. And most people do.

They pray in gratitude, in pain, in petition. They pray to sink that putt, pass that test, survive this day. Some pray without knowing who they pray to, but they pray all the same.

The National Day of Prayer is about all that, but since its inception, it’s become something else, too: It’s now as much about redstate values, about presidential proclamations, about Bible-reading marathons on the Capitol steps. It’s a day where communion wine mingles with apple pie, and some wonder whether the National Day of Prayer really encompasses all Americans.

"It’s become an exclusively evangelical event," said Victoria Heim, who is organizing a local multifaith Day of Prayer observation at Shove Chapel. Continue.

Americans Unite in Prayer
National Day of Prayer encourages families to honor God.

Stuart Shepard, CitizenLink.net, May 3, 2007

As part of today's National Day of Prayer (NDP), millions of Americans shared in a prayer written by Dr. Chuck Swindoll that recognizes the absolute sovereignty of God.

This year's theme is America, Unite in Prayer. In his prayer that was heard nationally on Christian radio and over the Internet, Swindoll acknowledged total dependence on God.

"Our need for Your forgiveness is constant," he prayed. "Our gratitude for Your grace is profound. Our love for You is deep." Continue

Focus on the Family's emails on Governor Eliot Spitzer

New York Governor Snubs National Day of Prayer
Refuses to sign proclamation.

Posted by Focus on the Family on April 27, preserved by JewsOnFirst.org

Text:

We want to make you aware of a slap in the face the governor of New York has delivered to people of faith all across the country.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer – who just a few days ago promised to sign a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in his state, should one land on his desk – apparently has refused to sign a proclamation supporting Thursday’s observance of the National Day of Prayer. The governors of the other 49 states have already issued such proclamations, acknowledging the need for America to unite in prayer. How arrogant that the governor of New York, which was the target of the vicious and unprovoked attacks on 9/11, does not believe the people of his state need divine guidance and protection.

Won’t you take a minute or two – no matter what state you live in – to let Gov. Spitzer know what you think about his refusal to acknowledge the National Day of Prayer? Remind him that this country was founded as a Christian nation – and he will insult and offend millions if he continues down the path he is on.

The original web-posting of Dobson's email was removed on Monday and replaced with the victory message below. We saved the original as a PDF, which you can see here.

New York Governor Changes Mind, Signs Prayer Proclamation
Reversal comes after Focus on the Family listeners call his offices.

Focus on the Family Citizenlink.net, April 30, 2007

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer has changed his mind and has signed a proclamation for the National Day of Prayer. Continue

From the websites of the prayer-day promoters

What it takes to Become a Coordinator

A simple application with contact data and statement of faith, confirming your commitment to Christ is all that's needed to get you on the way to becoming a NDP Task Force volunteer coordinator. National Day of Prayer Task Force Coordinators

Official Policy Statement on Participation of "Non-Judeo-Christian" groups in the National Day of Prayer:

The National Day of Prayer Task Force was a creation of the National Prayer Committee for the expressed purpose of organizing and promoting prayer observances conforming to a Judeo-Christian system of values. People with other theological and philosophical views are, of course, free to organize and participate in activities that are consistent with their own beliefs. This diversity is what Congress intended when it designated the Day of Prayer, not that every faith and creed would be homogenized, but that all who sought to pray for this nation would be encouraged to do so in any way deemed appropriate. It is that broad invitation to the American people that led, in our case, to the creation of the Task Force and the Judeo-Christian principles on which it is based. About the National Day of Prayer Task Force

How to Adopt-a-Leader

It is so important to encourage and pray for those who govern us. Here's some ways to adopt-a-leader (a kit is also available from our Store).

First, choose a leader God lays on your heart. You may watch your local newspaper or news on television or look at the sites below. Ask the Lord's direction in choosing a leader. Some people to pray for are government officials, police officers, teachers, firefighters, and military personal

Here are some resources for finding government leaders to pray for: Adopt A Leader (on the schools page)

Drive Thru History

The National Day of Prayer, in partnership with historian David Barton and Coldwater Media, is proud to present Drive Thru History America, a new, cutting-edge, multi-media curriculum that teaches the history of our nation from a Christian Worldview. Discover the character, faith, experiences and accomplishments of America's Founders as they developed this great country where we can worship, work, travel, and live in freedom! In this adventure-filled teaching series, you'll travel to Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Virginia to learn about the life and times of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Quincy Adams, Abigail Adams, Benjamin Banneker, and more. National Day of Prayer Task Force Schools, May 3, 3007

The Presidential Prayer Team
An organization associated with Billy Graham's son Franklin, linked from the "official" task force website

National days of prayer are nothing new in the United States. The first call to prayer came in 1775 when the Continental Congress asked the colonies to pray for wisdom in forming the nation. In 1952, President Truman signed a joint resolution by Congress declaring an annual national day of prayer. Then, in 1988, the Truman law was amended and signed by President Reagan, permanently establishing the first Thursday of May as the National Day of Prayer.

Our country has been uniting in prayer on that day ever since. Now, with the nation as divided as ever about the war in Iraq and with transitions of power fully underway in Congress, the President, our leaders and every man and woman in uniform need God’s guidance like never before. You can pray His presence into their lives with your participation in the National Day of Prayer through The Presidential Prayer Team Online Prayer Rally on Thursday, May 3.

You will partner throughout the day with Christians across the nation in this great, continuous prayer meeting for our President, leaders and troops. Unified prayer is powerful, "for where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:20) National Day of Prayer 2007 Prayer Events

See also: Research on the Presidential Prayer Team by SourceWatch, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy. Sourcewatch notes in a 2004 report "the lack of any information on the [PPT's] site informing visitors that the organization is not sponsored or funded by the President or any agency of the federal government." SourceWatch says that the group "is a private foundation whose promotion is being handled by The Envoy Group, a self-described 'new kind of Christian advertising agency.'" Click here for more.

Christian Leadership

Military Ministry’s first strategic objective is to Evangelize and Disciple All Enlisted Members of the US Military. We seek to provide every uniformed son and daughter of America with an "anchor for the soul through Jesus Christ. This process begins at the recruit training bases ... boot camps ... where new troops are transformed physically, mentally, and ideally ... spiritually.

We seek to not only impact the Armed Forces in this way, but to also transform our entire nation as we build values, character and Christian faith into these dear ones who serve us at home and abroad. Evangelism and Discipleship

International Ministries

The same principles that apply to the military ministry in the United States are true in the militaries of nations around the work as we seek to Change Continents for Christ. Our goal is to transform nations of the world through the militaries of the world. We seek to train, equip, and partner with indigenous leaders to establish "sending platforms" in each region of the world. International Ministries

Gettysburg 2007 Summer Project (June 1 - July 13)

Two and six week options. We’ll be giving tours of the museum and helping with weekend and weekday Civil War Chapel Services. During the July Reenactment, we’ll participate as Agents for the US Christian Commission (the 1800s version of Military Ministry) ... telling the story of faith and sharing the gospel as we interact with the 20,000 plus tourists, pass out civil war gospel tracts, and conduct Civil War Chapels. Gettysburg 2007 Summer Project

The Navigators Military Ministry

We envision a movement of thousands of courageous men and women passionately following Christ, representing Him in advancing the Gospel through relationships where they live, work, train for war, and deploy. This movement includes men and women of all races and ranks, and permeates the military community on and around every U.S. installation and foreign military around the world. Navigators Military Ministry
 

Coverage of National Day of Prayer Events

The screenshot below is of a television news report by a station in the Dobson's hometown, Colorado Springs.

Dozens of Heads Were Bowed

Dana Milbank, Washington Post, May 4, 2007

Let us pray.

Let us pray that, on next year's National Day of Prayer, there is better attendance at the "Bible Reading Marathon" on the West Front of the Capitol.

Organizers put out 600 folding chairs on the lawn -- the spot where presidents are inaugurated -- and set up a huge stage with powerful amplifiers. But at 9:30 a.m. yesterday, not one of the 600 seats was occupied. By 11 a.m., as a woman read a passage from Revelations, attendance had grown -- to four people. Finally, at 1 p.m., 37 of the 600 seats were occupied, though many of those people were tourists eating lunch. Continue.

National Prayer Day marred by divisions

Peggy Fletcher, Whittier Daily News (Whittier, California), April 3, 2007

Thursday's National Day of Prayer was once a symbol of American unity and faith in God that transcended boundaries. In recent years, though, the decades-old tradition has become mired in divisions.

Across the nation, most celebrations are organized by and for evangelical Christians, with others choosing to host alternative services. Believers in Muncie, Ind.; Oklahoma City; Troy, Mich.; Salt Lake City and more have added more inclusive events, with participation across the spiritual spectrum.

The holiday began in 1775, when the Continental Congress asked Americans to pray for guidance as it was trying to birth a nation. Abraham Lincoln called for a day of fasting and prayer in 1863. Nearly a century later, Harry Truman made it an annual event, and in 1988, Ronald Reagan set aside the first Thursday in May so citizens could join in worship across all religious boundaries. Continue.

Mississippi jurist encourages prayer at D.C. event

Ana Radelat, The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississipi), May 4, 2007

Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Jim Smith came to Washington on Thursday to make "judicial branch remarks" at a National Day of Prayer event on Capitol Hill.

The event, held in a cavernous room at the Cannon House Office Building, had the feeling of a religious revival and was aimed at encouraging Americans to pray.

Smith spoke about the importance of prayer in his life, especially after a bout with cancer and the death of his first wife. He said "a prayer line with God gives people their strength." Continue.

Church, state get closer for a day
>Nearly 100 gather in Bel Air for National Day of Prayer observance

Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun, May 4, 2007

While noontime traffic rolled past on Main Street in Bel Air yesterday, a crowd of about 100 people gathered in front of the Harford County Courthouse in small groups. Clusters of strangers filled the courtyard, locking arms with one another, eyes closed and heads bowed.

This was not the monthly assembly of peace demonstrators, the casual lunch bunch on a pleasant spring day, or the concert-goers at the town's weekly First Friday events, all of whom convene regularly on the courthouse grounds in the county seat. This group had come to pray and sing in voices that overcame the din of cars, trucks and sirens. Continue.

Prayer day in Akron is divided
Christians gather at courthouse, interfaith group meets at church with different themes displayed

Colette M. Jenkins and Carl Chancellor, Akron Beacon-Journal, May 04, 2007

Millions of Americans came together across the nation on Thursday to pray and echo the theme ``America, Unite in Prayer.''

But in Akron, the 56th annual observance of National Day of Prayer was divided -- a Christian-based event drew about 150 people to the steps of the Summit County Courthouse downtown while an interfaith service several blocks away at Church of the Master United Methodist Church on East Market Street attracted more than 50 people, including those of the Baha'i, Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Jewish faiths.

``It's lovely to see the diversity. It is truly the face of America,'' said Chloe Ann Kriska, executive director of the Akron Area Association of Churches. ``On National Day of Prayer, all people of all faiths are to come together and pray in accordance with the way we are accustomed to praying. Muslims need not hide Mohammed today and Christians need not hide Jesus today. If we deny who we are in our faith, it leads to the rumor mill and the rumor mill leads to the hate mill.'' Continue.

'Sim Shalom' at national prayer day

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, May 4, 2007

The U.S. Army Chorus sang "Sim Shalom," the final prayer of the Amidah, at the National Day of Prayer at the White House.

The chorus opened Thursday's event with a rendition of the prayer that ends the Amidah, the most common set of Jewish prayers, recited three times a day. The "Sim Shalom" prayer beseeches God for peace.

President Bush addressed the event, and a number of U.S. senators were in attendance. Rabbi Michael Siegel of Anshe Emet, a conservative congregation in Chicago, was among a number of clerics delivering remarks. He recited Psalm 145, saying that it offered solace to President Abraham Lincoln during the U.S. Civil War.

The original report is here.