WASHINGTON, DC (FR) – For the first time in U.S. history, a bill enacting a permanent national day of prayer passed both houses. The Senate bill, S. 1378, was introduced by South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, while the House version was introduced by Ohio democrat Tony Hall.
The measure amends a 1952 law which required the president to proclaim a day of his choosing each year. President Reagan signed the bill into law in the Oval Office on May 5th and read a prayer translated from Russian. The prayer was found on a young soldier, Alexander Zatzepa, who was killed in action in 1944.
Rep. Hall said at a “Praise and Celebration Banquet” held in conjunction with the event that he was surprised that the measure went through so fast. Usually a commemorative measure needs 218 signatures, but the requirement was waived. “Now it’s settled on the calenders of Americans,” said Tim Bobbit, spokesman for the National Day of Prayer Task Force.
In addition to passage of the measure, 33 governors and over 150 mayors issued proclamations in their respective states and cities to commemorate the day of prayer. “We’ve definitely seen more participation compared to last year,” said Susan Sorensen, spokeswoman for the National Prayer Committee.
In Chicago, city coordinator Sue Peterson organized 6,000 people to pray every hour. Olympic Gold Medalist John Naber was the keynote speaker at a prayer breakfast in Pasadena, California. There were 100 mayoral proclamations in Maine and 20 in Louisiana.
The measure was the result of an unusual bi-partisan effort. Four congressmen co-sponsored the measure: Rep. Carlos Moorhead (R-CA), Rep. Robert Garcia (D-NY), Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), and Rep. Tony Hall(D-OH). Senate co-sponsors were: Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC), Bill Armstrong (R- CO), Sen. Howard Heflin (D-AL), and Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-FL).
The National Prayer Committee was started in 1982 to coordinate and implement the commemorated day of prayer. Sorensen said there has been a steady increase in the number of governors and mayors participating. “The only hindrance is the state not knowing about it. However, a lot of other groups hold observances that we are not even aware of.” The first day of prayer was declared by the Continental Congress in 1775. In Reagan’s 1987 proclamation, he stated, “On our National Day of Prayer, then, we join together as people of many faiths to petition God to show us His mercy and His love, to heal our weariness and uphold our hope, that we might live ever mindful of His justice and thankful for His blessing.”
Reagan further urged “…the citizens of this great nation to gather together on that day in homes and places of worship to pray, each after his or her own manner, for unity of hearts of all mankind.”