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Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman May 7, 2021

Fact-checking posts about the 2021 National Day of Prayer

If Your Time is short

  • There was no public service held at the U.S. Capitol, as there has been in some years — but the day was still observed. 

  • President Joe Biden issued the typical proclamation designating the day and participated in a virtual prayer event. 

  • The Capitol is closed to public tours amid the COVID-19 pandemic and has been operating under increased security ever since the breach on Jan. 6.
     

In 1952, President Harry S. Truman signed a joint resolution to establish the National Day of Prayer. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan approved an amendment that set the annual observance to take place on the first Thursday in May.

Since then, each president has issued a proclamation to commemorate the day, and it’s been observed in prayer services in Washington, D.C, and around the country.

This year, it fell on May 6. And President Joe Biden did the same.

But it didn’t take long for social media posts to start circulating that claim lawmakers in Washington ignored the day.

"First time in 70 years the National Day Of Prayer was not observed in our nation’s capital! Are you awake yet!" read one Facebook post. 

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

There was no in-person service held at its usual location — the U.S. Capitol — in 2021. Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition sent us a live-streamed video of what appeared to be a small National Day of Prayer gathering outside the Capitol in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Trump administration that year hosted its own service outside of the White House.

But it’s wrong to say there was no observance of the National Day of Prayer in the nation’s capital under Biden, who is a practicing Catholic. 

First, Biden issued the traditional presidential proclamation designating the day:

"The Congress, by Public Law 100-307, as amended, has called on the President to issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a "National Day of Prayer," the proclamation reads.

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"NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 6, 2021, as a National Day of Prayer. I invite the citizens of our Nation to give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I join all people of faith in prayers for spiritual guidance, mercy, and protection."

Biden also joined Pray.com in a pre-recorded message for an online National Day of Prayer event. It was broadcast on Pray.com, SiriusXM channel 154, Direct TV, Audacy and multiple Facebook groups. Biden’s message can be viewed around the 2:08:00 mark in the video.

"I want to thank you all for praying for our nation," Biden says in the recording. "I join you in these prayers today and every day. I know how much it matters because I've seen the power of prayer in my own life. Like so many of you, prayer has nourished my soul and delivers strength and hope and guidance when I needed it most."

The National Day of Prayer Task Force also hosted a virtual event. 

While Trump held a service for the day in the White House Rose Garden in 2020, not every president opts to host an event.

The Capitol building, where an annual prayer service for the day is typically held, has been closed to public tours amid the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to operate under increased security measures since the Jan. 6 riots. 

Our ruling

Facebook posts claim that, for the first time in 70 years, the 2021 National Day of Prayer wasn’t observed at the capital.

There was no public prayer service held at the U.S. Capitol, as there has been in some years, but the day was still observed. Biden issued the typical presidential proclamation designating the day and participated in a virtual event in which he spoke to the power of prayer in his life. The Capitol building is closed to public tours amid the COVID-19 pandemic and has been operating under increased security ever since pro-Trump activists breached security and attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.

We rate this claim False. 

Correction, May 19, 2021: A small prayer service was held at the U.S. Capitol on the National Day of Prayer in 2020, according to information provided by Rev. Patrick Mahoney. This fact-check has been updated to reflect that. The rating on this claim remains unchanged.

Our Sources

Facebook post, May 6, 2021

WhiteHouse.gov, A Proclamation on National Day Of Prayer, May 5, 2021

PRnewswire.com, President Joe Biden to Participate in Pray.com's National Day of Prayer, an Online Event Dedicated to Prayer for our Nation, May 6, 2021

Facebook live, Pray.com’s National Day of Prayer 2021, May 6, 2021 

U.S. Capitol Police, Activities Requiring Permits, Accessed May 7, 2021

Missions Box, National Day of Prayer – May 6, 2021, May 4, 2021 

Washington Post, An increasingly fortified federal city, April 13, 2021 

Email interview, Chris M. Meagher spokesperson at the White House, May 7, 2021

Facebook post, May 7, 2020

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