Christian overtones will define public prayer events today in Buffalo and other local communities observing the National Day of Prayer — despite concerns from some groups that evangelicals have co-opted the day to the exclusion of other faiths.
Jews on First and the Council on American-Islamic Relations are among the groups urging a more inclusive prayer day, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked government officials to be wary of a national nonprofit group that helps organize observances around the country.
The group, the National Day of Prayer Task Force, is responsible for assisting with the organization of thousands of prayer day observances across the country, including local events scheduled for Niagara Square, the Lockport Municipal Building, Jamestown City Hall, Lancaster High School and The Summit in Wheatfield.
Before it will list a prayer event on its Web site or provide other technical support, the prayer task force requires local coordinators to agree to a statement of belief in the Bible as the “inerrant word” of God and in Jesus Christ as the only path to salvation.
The application also requires that any prayer event activities “be conducted solely by Christians.”
“Anyone else is welcome to pray and pray in the public square. We’re certainly not trying to bump anyone else,” said Anne McCune, coordinator of the Niagara Square observance, which will begin at noon.
But Jews on First recently proclaimed that the National Day of Prayer “has been hijacked” and is now “excluding and dividing us on religious lines.”
Jews, Muslims, Catholics and mainline Protestants were being excluded from the events by the task force, which sponsors about 40,000 prayer observances nationwide, according to Jews on First. . .
“It’s just about a very narrow group that has appropriated our flag,” said Rabbi Haim Beliak of Jews on First, which started an online campaign, www.inclusiveprayerday.org, about six weeks ago. “This is not the Christian National Day of Prayer. This is the National Day of Prayer. Historically it was called the National Day of Prayer and Meditation.” Jews on First has tried to get governors across the country to stop issuing proclamations in support of the task force’s efforts.
“Their authority of office is being used by the Christian right,” Beliak said.