(by Kristi Keck, CNN.com) – For the past eight years, the White House recognized the National Day of Prayer with a service in the East Room, but this year, President Obama decided against holding a public ceremony.
“Prayer is something that the president does everyday,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday, noting that Obama will sign a proclamation to recognize the day, as many administrations in the past have done.
Asked if Obama thought his predecessor’s ceremonies were politicized, Gibbs said, “No, I’m not going to get into that again.
“I think the president understands, in his own life and in his family’s life, the role that prayer plays.”
The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance for people of all faiths.
Under the Bush administration, the White House hosted an interfaith service each year, inviting protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders for an event at the East Room.
President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush also marked the day with a White House observance.
President Harry Truman first established the day as a national event in 1952. Reagan signed a resolution in 1988 to observe the National Day of Prayer each year on the first Thursday in May, and each president since has recognized this day with a proclamation.
The National Day of Prayer Task Force, a privately funded organization that focuses on mobilizing the Christian community, says it’s disappointed in this year’s toned down observance, but other groups say the president needs to go a step farther — and ignore the day altogether.
“It’s not his job to tell people to pray,” said David Silverman, national spokesperson for the organization American Atheists.
“We are very happy he did away with the George W. Bush-era celebrations and party, but we wish he wouldn’t do it at all. … When church and state are separate, separate is separate,” he said.
Although there are no public events scheduled at the White House, representatives from the legislative and judicial branches are expected to attend an event the National Day of Prayer Task Force is holding on Capitol Hill.
But, despite numerous attempts to get a representative from the executive office to attend, “it doesn’t appear they are going to fulfill our request,” said Becky Armstrong, marketing and media manager of the National Day of Prayer Task Force.
“The White House is a small part of what the national day of prayer is all about. There will be dozens of events held in our nation’s capitol [today] and governors from all 50 states have already issued proclamations recognizing the National Day of Prayer,” Armstrong said.
“It would be belittling to those millions of people to reduce this day to merely one event not being held at the White House.”
Task Force Chairman Shirley Dobson said in a statement that she was disappointed in the “lack of participation” by the Obama administration, adding that “at this time in our country’s history, we would hope our President would recognize more fully the importance of prayer.”
Dobson will be a presenter at that event, along with her husband and former president of Focus on the Family James Dobson, author Beth Moore, NFL player Shaun Alexander and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.
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1. How is President Obama changing the way the National Day of Prayer is recognized in the White House?
2. Which president (and in what year) established the day of prayer as a national event?
3. Which president signed a resolution to make the first Thursday in May the day to observe the National Day of Prayer?
4. Who will be attending the prayer event hosted by the National Day of Prayer Task Force on Capitol Hill?
5. What is the purpose of the National Day of Prayer?
6. Many presidents have asked the citizens to pray for our country at various times. Should the president of the United States hold a public ceremony for the National Day of Prayer? Explain your answer.
The National Day of Prayer: The National Day of Prayer is an annual event inviting people of all faiths to pray for our country and our leaders.
2 Chronicles 7:14
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made the following prayer on the eve of D-Day, 1944:
My Fellow Americans:
Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.
And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
Franklin D. Roosevelt – June 6, 1944
Visit the National Day of Prayer Task Force website at ndptf.org/about/index.cfm.
Read a commentary “Why Participate in the National Day of Prayer?” at christianitytoday.com/holidays/ndop/features/why.html.