5 facts about prayer
May 7 is the National Day of Prayer, on which presidents annually proclaim that “the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.” The day has spawned a rival National Day of Reason on the same day, started by humanist groups and other opponents of the National Day of Prayer.
Here are five facts about prayer, including survey data on Americans’ prayer habits and historical instances of prayer intersecting with the government:
1The National Day of Prayer was enacted in 1952 by the Congress and President Harry S. Truman. As with the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, the move came during the Cold War and was seen as a way of contrasting the more religious United States with the officially atheistic Soviet Union.
2The Freedom From Religion Foundation unsuccessfully challenged the National Day of Prayer in court. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2011 that the group, which aims to promote the separation of church and state, did not have legal standing to challenge the law.
3For many Americans, every day is a day of prayer. More than half (55%) of Americans said they pray every day, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, while 23% said they pray weekly or monthly and 21% said they seldom or never pray. Even among those who are religiously unaffiliated, 21% said they pray daily. Women (65%) are more likely than men (46%) to pray every day. Older people (60%) are more likely than younger adults (45%) to say they pray daily.
4A 2010 USA Today/Gallup poll asked Americans specifically about the National Day of Prayer. A majority (57%) said they favored having the Day of Prayer, while just 5% said they opposed it. A significant share (38%) said it didn’t matter to them either way.
5Last year – in the case Town of Greece v. Galloway – the Supreme Court ruled that U.S. legislative and administrative bodies may begin their sessions with a prayer. On some occasions, however, the high court has rejected other types of state-sponsored prayer. For instance, in 1962’s Engel v. Vitale, the court famously struck down a policy requiring public school students to begin their day with a nonsectarian prayer.
This is an update of a blog post originally published May 1, 2014.
Category: 5 Facts
Michael Lipka is an editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.