Across America today, millions of people at thousands of venues, from churches to municipal buildings, will bow their heads in honor of the National Day of Prayer, billed since its inception 57 years ago as a spiritual gathering for people of all faiths.
This year, however, the day of prayer dawns amid controversy over just how inclusive -- or not -- the event has become.
An unlikely coalition of people and groups contends that the National Day of Prayer has been "hijacked" by evangelical Christians on a national task force that helps organize events across the country, including high-profile ceremonies at the White House and the Capitol.
"They've acted as if it's their monopoly," said Rabbi Haim Beliak, co-director of a First Amendment watchdog group, Jews On First. Government officials, he said, "have to ask, 'Does this group include everyone or does it discriminate?'"
Beliak's group was the first to publicly complain, saying the task force excludes members of other faiths from serving on the body or even from becoming officially designated volunteers.
The complaints have since been echoed by the national Council on American Islamic Relations, the Washington-based Interfaith Alliance and a host of regional organizations from New Jersey and other states.
At issue is a task force policy requiring members or volunteer coordinators to affirm their faith, according to the group's website.
Applicants must agree to a statement that begins, "I believe that the Holy Bible is the inerrant Word of The Living God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only One by which I can obtain salvation and have an ongoing relationship with God." (MORE)