The Continental Congress of the original 13 colonies of what would become the United States of America was established to resist the unfair tax practices and tyrannical laws and policies imposed on the colonies by Great Britain. On September 6, 1774 -- less than two years before the colonies formally declared independence from Great Britain -- the Continental Congress made its first official act a call for prayer. And on May 16, 1776, the Continental Congress appointed an official national day of fasting and prayer for the colonies:
The Congress....Desirous...to have people of all ranks and degrees duly impressed with a solemn sense of God's superintending providence, and of their duty, devoutly to rely...on His aid and direction...Do earnestly recommend Friday, the 17th day of May be observed by the colonies as a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that we may, with united hearts, confess and bewailed our manifold sins and transgressions, and, by sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease God's righteous displeasure, and, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain this pardon and forgiveness.
The Continental Congress on September 11, 1777, ordered the importation of 20,000 Bibles for the American troops. The law read as follows:
The use of the Bible is so universal and its importance so great that your committee refers the above to the consideration of Congress, and if Congress shall not think it expedient to order the importation of types and paper, the Committee recommends that Congress will order the Committee of Commerce to import 20,000 Bibles from Holland, Scotland, or elsewhere, into the different parts of the States of the Union.
Whereupon it was resolved accordingly to direct said Committee of Commerce to import 20,000 copies of the Bible.
Indeed, the Congress authorized its endorsement to be printed on the front page of the edition of the Bible approved for the American people:
Whereupon, Resolved, that the Unites States in Congress assembled...recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the Unites States, and hereby authorize [Robert Aitken] to publish this recommendation in the manner he shall think proper.
The Continental Congress on October 18, 1780, issued another Proclamation for a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer:
Whereas it hath pleased Almighty God, the Father of all mercies, amidst the vicissitudes and calamities of war, to bestow blessings on the people of these states, which call for their devout and thankful acknowledgments, more especially in the late remarkable interposition of his watchful providence, in the rescuing the person of our Commander-in-Chief and the army from imminent dangers, at the moment when treason was ripened for execution...
It is therefore recommended to the several states...a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, that all the people may assemble on that day celebrate the praises of our Divine Benefactor; to confess our unworthiness of the least of His favors, and to offer our fervent supplication to the God of all grace...to cause the knowledge of Christianity to spread over all the earth.
On July 13, 1787, the Continental Congress passed "An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States." This law was passed again by the United States Congress and signed into law by President George Washington on August 4, 1789:
Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged.