Oklahoma leaders, including Gov. Brad Henry, took part in a National Day of Prayer service Thursday at the state Capitol, prompting one of the organizers to say that many people in positions of authority believe in the power of prayer. "It just goes to show that prayer is still important to Oklahoma and to our leadership,” said Lloyd Smith, chairman of the Oklahoma National Day of Prayer Task Force. About 300 people attended the service on the south plaza of the state Capitol, one of many across the state marking the 59th National Day of Prayer. Congress established the day in 1952 and in 1988 set the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations asking Americans to pray. Last month, a federal judge in Wisconsin ruled the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional, saying the government cannot enact laws supporting a day of prayer and may not use its authority to influence an individual’s decision "whether and when to pray.” The Obama administration has said it will appeal the ruling. At least one speaker at the Capitol observance alluded to the judicial challenge facing the national observance. "Pastors are getting beat up,” the Rev. Gerald Peterson, pastor of First Lutheran Church of Oklahoma City, said before praying for churches, pastors and spiritual leaders. "The church is being told you must stay within the boundaries. That’s not God’s intent. We are to be witnesses. That is what we are doing here.” Members of an Oklahoma atheists group gathered across from the state Capitol service. "Basically we wanted to come here to show that not everyone agrees with what’s happening. It’s a clear violation of separation of church and state. The idea is you don’t need the government to tell you when to pray and how to pray,” said Nick Singer, president of Oklahoma Atheists. Singer, of Oklahoma City, and the group of about eight people held signs and a banner that read, "The hands that help are better than the lips that pray.” Leaders of the group said the banner referred to a food drive they held Thursday. Henry said he was honored to speak at what will be his last National Day of Prayer service as governor. He said it is important that Oklahomans "honor and recognize the power of prayer, especially in the current times when we face the most difficult and challenging times as Americans.” Henry said he has tried to comfort Oklahomans after they lost their homes or loved ones due to a natural disaster or terrorist act. He said many families turn "to the Almighty and to prayer. "Because of the grace of God our spirit in Oklahoma will not be broken,” Henry said. Others who led prayers included Lt. Gov. Jari Askins; Howard Hendrick, director of the Department of Human Services; Kevin Ward, public safety commissioner; and Dr. Charles McWilliams with Surgical Specialists of Oklahoma and secretary-treasurer of the American Association of Urologists. Everett Davis of Yukon said it was the first time he had attended a National Day of Prayer event. "It gave me more encouragement at the strength they showed today. It encouraged me to pray for them more earnestly,” Davis said. Event coordinators in other areas of the metro and state had anticipated more participation because of the awareness generated by the judicial challenge. The Rev. Chris Shorow, senior pastor of First Christian Church of Edmond, said participation in the Edmond’s service was greater than anticipated. "We had at least double what we had last year,” Shorow said of the service sponsored by the Edmond Ministerial Alliance. Damion Reinhardt of Edmond, a member of Oklahoma Atheists, said his organization opposed the prayer service because it was not inclusive of all people. "This is not National Day of Prayer. This is Christian Day of Prayer,” he said. In years past, a concurrent interfaith activity has been held at the state Capitol. This year, the Interfaith Alliance Foundation of Oklahoma planned to host a forum on pluralism Thursday night at Emanuel Synagogue.
National Day Of PrayerCongress established the day in 1952 and in 1988 set the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations asking Americans to pray. A federal judge recently ruled that the national observance is unconstitutional.