We've never needed it more.
President Harry S Truman signed a bill proclaiming a National Day of Prayer on April 17, 1952. Each following president was to sign a proclamation for such a day to occur on the date of his choice. In 1988, the law was amended so it would be held on the first Thursday of May.
Of course, there has been resistance to such an observance over the years. A lawsuit was filed in 2008 and upheld by a U.S. district court judge in 2010 that the law was unconstitutional and “an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function.”
In 2011 a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago unanimously overturned the decision without addressing the law's constitutionality. According to the court, “the president is free to make appeals to the public based on many kinds of grounds, including political and religious, and that such requests do not obligate citizens to comply and do not encroach on citizens' rights.”
The court's ruling was appealed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the constitutionality of the law is still under challenge.
But Thursday is still the National Day of Prayer. And President Obama as he did last year will again sign a proclamation inviting all citizens of the nation “as their own faith directs them, to join me in giving thanks for the many blessings we enjoy, and I call upon individuals of all faiths to pray for guidance, grace and protection for our great nation as we address the challenges of our time.”
Observing a National Day of Prayer is much like maintaining “one nation under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance to the flag or keeping “In God we trust” on our coins. It's a national, government-sanctioned recognition of a higher power and a deeper meaning to our very existence. And many people object to that. But the government can't compel Americans to pray, nor to trust or even recognize God. We are free to pray to any god we choose. And we are free not to.
And that freedom unites the majority of us at times like Sept. 11, 2001, or April 15, 2013, when our worst fears are realized and our hearts are broken during the “challenges of our times” and we need to turn to the power sovereign to it all — the creator, who ordained upon us those certain unalienable rights of the Declaration of Independence.
And if a day comes when political correctness, the “separation of church and state” mantra and the lawsuits of every anti-god organization in the country succeed in scrubbing our nation of all references to that creator, then that may be the time we lose the gift of his grace in hearing us when we collectively call upon him in our desperation.