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.