WASHINGTON (BP) -- President Obama called for Americans to remember the persecuted overseas as millions observed the National Day of Prayer.
People gathered Thursday (May 1) at tens of thousands of events throughout the United States to pray on a day the federal government has recognized for more than six decades. Public observances have been held on National Day of Prayer in as many as 40,000 locations in the past.
In this year's National Day of Prayer proclamation, Obama said Americans "give thanks for our many blessings, including the freedom to pray as our consciences dictate."
The president said, "As we give thanks for our liberties, we must never forget those around the world, including Americans, who are being held or persecuted because of their convictions. Let us remember all prisoners of conscience today, whatever their faiths or beliefs and wherever they are held. Let us continue to take every action within our power to secure their release. And let us carry forward our Nation's tradition of religious liberty, which protects Americans' rights to pray and to practice our faiths as we see fit."
Obama said he joined "all people of faith in asking for God's continued guidance, mercy, and protection as we seek a more just world."
The presidential proclamation, issued Wednesday (April 30), came the same day the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released its annual report, which called for the White House and Congress to make changes to help religious adherents under repressive regimes. It also came as many Christians and other Americans express concerns about their diminishing freedom to practice their beliefs under the federal government's mandate that employers provide to their workers drugs that have the potential to cause abortions and as the legalization of same-sex marriage mounts in the states.
The lead observance of the National Day of Prayer again was held at a House of Representatives building on Capitol Hill. National Day of Prayer Task Force Chairman Shirley Dobson; her husband, Focus on the Family and Family Talk founder James Dobson; and honorary chairman Anne Graham Lotz were among the speakers.
This year's theme, established by the task force, was "One Voice, United in Prayer." The Bible verse for this year's observance was Rom. 15:6: "So that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
In her prayer composed for this year's observance, Lotz spoke of the need for repentance. She included in her prayer:
"[W]e choose to stop pointing our finger at the sins of others, and examine our own hearts and lives. We choose to acknowledge our own sin -- our neglect and defiance and ignorance and even rejection of You. This day we choose to repent.
"In response to our heartfelt repentance, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Father of Jesus Christ, in keeping with all Your righteous acts and according to Your promise, turn away Your anger and Your wrath from the United States of America. Hear the prayers and petitions offered to You on this National Day of Prayer, as we give You our full attention. Give ear, our God, and hear; open Your eyes and see. We do not make requests of You because we are righteous, but because of Your great mercy."
This year's National Day of Prayer took place on the day the Colorado Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a challenge to the governor's right to issue an honorary prayer proclamation. The Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged the practice in 2010, and the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in the atheist organization's favor.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sided with Colorado in supporting the governor's authority to issue prayer proclamations.
"No governor of any other state in the nation has been barred from issuing such proclamations. Our prayer is that the Colorado Supreme Court does not become the first state to bar its governor from doing so," ADF Senior Counsel Brett Harvey said in a written release.
National Day of Prayer has been held each year since Congress approved a resolution in 1952 calling on the president to establish such an annual event. President Truman inaugurated the observance the same year, and presidents since then have recognized it with proclamations. In 1988, Congress amended the law to set the first Thursday of May for the observance.
The NDP Task Force is a privately funded group that says the observance is for people of all faiths to participate in but the events it organizes are fulfilled "in accordance with its Judeo-Christian beliefs."
Among many local events across the U.S., about 500 gathered at a 6:30 a.m. prayer breakfast in honor of first responders and sponsored by First Baptist Church of Nashville at the downtown Music City Center.
Lieutenant Tommy Neiman, a decorated firefighter and paramedic with the St. Lucie Fire District in Fort Pierce, Fla., and founder of the Sirens for the Cross ministry to emergency responders, encouraged the group to use their professional positions to God's glory.
"This uniform that I wear ... I know that the real calling underneath it is the job I do spiritually for my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," Neiman told the crowd. "It doesn't matter which call God puts me on, it can be the most ordinary call, or it can be the most exciting call, but let me tell you if we just are seeking to see God use us through whatever uniform He's called us to wear, He can use us."
"My prayer for you on this National Day of Prayer, where we openly come in prayer," Neiman said, "let God use you in uniform, regardless of what it is, to serve Him."
Becki Fortner, Tennessee state coordinator for the National Day of Prayer Task Force, led the group in praying for national and local leaders, churches and communities.
"We, your people do not lose heart as we stand on the truth, lifting our eyes to You in these critical days and your truth sets us free," Fortner prayed. "So we embrace the truth you've graciously given us in Second Chronicles 7:14. ... We fervently ask you to work the kinds of miracles that are needed all across America, all across Tennessee and our beloved city to turn us to you and your ways, making it possible for you to keep your promise to us."
Obama's National Day of Prayer proclamation may be accessed online at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/05/01/presidential-proclamation-national-day-prayer-2014.
Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, wrote and compiled this story. Diana Chandler, Baptist Press general assignment writer/editor, also contributed to this article. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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