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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Prayer Day Still Not Cancelled

Year after year, we see some of the same false viral claims circulating on social media and via email with little about them changing but the dates. Claims that President Barack Obama has cancelled the National Day of Prayer are a perfect example.

We first addressed such claims in 2009 after Obama decided not to celebrate the day by holding a public service at the White House as President George W. Bush had done in previous years. However, Obama still issued a presidential proclamation recognizing May 7 of that year as the National Day of Prayer.

We wrote about the bogus claim again the following year after a Facebook post stated that Obama was cancelling the National Day of Prayer because he didn’t “want to offend anybody.” That wasn’t the case. As he had done the previous year, Obama issued a proclamation designating May 6, 2010, as the official day of prayer.

That’s the last time we wrote about the claims, but that hasn’t stopped readers from asking us every year: “Did Obama cancel the National Day of Prayer?” Our answer would have been “no” every year, anyway, since Obama issued prayer day proclamations in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and again in 2015.

The answer is the same this year, too. Obama issued this year’s proclamation May 4:

Obama, May 4: I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 5, 2016, as National Day of Prayer. I invite the citizens of our Nation to give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I join all people of faith in asking for God’s continued guidance, mercy, and protection as we seek a more just world.

The National Day of Prayer Task Force has also debunked the claim that Obama cancelled the annual observation:

NDPTF, Nov. 12, 2015: Contrary to popular belief, President Obama did NOT cancel the National Day of Prayer. In fact, last year, 2 representatives from his cabinet attended the national observance on Capitol Hill.

President Ronald Reagan held observances in the Rose Garden. President George H. Bush was a guest speaker for several National Day of Prayer events. President Bill Clinton invited guests, including Shirley Dobson, for prayer times at the White House during the National Day of Prayer. President George W. Bush held events regularly for the National Day of Prayer at the White House. However, President Barack Obama has chosen not to personally participate nor host events for the National Day of Prayer at the White House, which seems to be the origin of this widely circulated email. Although he has not participated as his predecessors did, he has written a proclamation for the day of prayer every year of his presidency, which are available on our website, www.nationaldayofprayer.org.

The prayer day task force also states that “[e]very President since 1952 has signed a National Day of Prayer proclamation.” That’s because the day of prayer was established that year by a joint resolution of Congress and signed into law by President Truman. In 1988, President Reagan signed into law an amended version establishing the first Thursday in May as the official day of prayer.

So, Obama couldn’t have cancelled the National Day of Prayer without the approval of Congress.

And even though Obama has never held a public service at the White House on the National Day of Prayer, he has attended and delivered remarks at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., every year that he has been in office. The prayer breakfast, which began in 1953, is held every year on the first Thursday in February.