Ventura refuses to officially recognize day of prayer

Amy Olson

As Minnesotans gathered at the state Capitol to celebrate Thursday’s National Day of Prayer, some political groups criticized the governor’s refusal to formally recognize the event.
The sun broke through the clouds on the Capitol mall as 200 people began singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” As many as 1,000 people were expected to worship at the multi-denominational service.
Gov. Jesse Ventura’s refusal to issue a proclamation in honor of the National Day of Prayer drew criticism from conservative organizations, including the Minnesota Family Council.
Tom Prichard, president of the organization, criticized the governor’s willingness to proclaim Feb. 15 Rolling Stones Day, but not to follow in the footsteps of President Clinton and other governors around the nation by proclaiming Thursday National Prayer Day.
Ventura’s communications director John Wodele said the governor issued a letter of recognition instead of a proclamation because Ventura believes in the separation of church and state. Wodele said proclamations represent official actions on behalf of the state, while letters of recognition represent only the governor’s beliefs.
Wodele said since Ventura thinks prayer and religion are personal issues, a proclamation would have violated that separation.
But some disagree with that separation. Steve Loopstra, who runs Midwest Concerts of Prayer, asked the worshipers to remember to pray for their legislators and other elected officials as well as their families and neighbors.
“What would have happened in Littleton (Colo.) if their neighbors had prayed for them?” asked Jim Munson, referring to the massacre at Columbine High School on April 20. Munson, a pastor from Christ Community Church in Apple Valley, spoke at the event.
Public figures and private individuals alike are beginning to recognize the importance of prayer, Munson said.
“It’s the media who’s caught on to the importance of Jesus in our lives,” he added.
The national event was officially recognized by President Truman in 1952, but was not widely celebrated until President Reagan declared the first Thursday in May as the official National Day of Prayer in 1988.
Prichard said the tradition dates back to 1795 when President Washington issued a proclamation for a day of public thanksgiving and prayer; President Lincoln also issued a similar order in 1861 at the outbreak of the Civil War.