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Christians defy judge’s ruling, mark Day of Prayercomment (0)

May 13, 2010


For years, the annual National Day of Prayer observances on Capitol Hill had become almost routine affairs as mostly conservative Christian groups bowed with legislators to pray for the soul of America.

But this year, after a federal judge ruled the law creating the day is unconstitutional, May 6 events took on an air of defiance as organizers accused nonbelievers of threatening their religious freedom.

“I think it is waking people up across this land,” said Evangelist Franklin Graham, the honorary chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, who was disinvited from Pentagon observances because of his remarks on Islam.

“I think people realize, many Christians, how we’re losing our religious freedoms a little bit every day and if we don’t stand up and exercise the freedoms that God has given us in this country, we will lose them.”

Graham began the day praying on the sidewalk outside the Pentagon, after military officials withdrew his invitation to speak because his comments about Islam — he’s called it an “evil and wicked religion” — were “problematic.”

At press time, organizers said more than 40,000 events were scheduled to be held at parks, churches and courthouse steps across the country — more than any other year and an increase of more than 15 percent from last year.

Shirley Dobson, leader of the task force and the wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, noted that the nationwide observances are voluntary.

“Citizens can choose to pray or not to pray,” she said. “No one is required to participate, despite what the opponents of public prayer say.”

She was thankful that the Obama administration is appealing the April 15 decision by Wisconsin federal judge Barbara Crabb — who ruled observances could continue as her decision is appealed.

In his keynote address at the Cannon House Office Building, Graham acknowledged that people “of other faiths” might hear his message but he could only speak as a “minister of the gospel.”

“I don’t want to be offensive to anyone,” he said, “but I only know how to pray and I only know how to preach the way that the Bible instructs me.”

The printed program called for “executive branch remarks,” but no representative of the White House spoke. The audience of about 400 prayed for the White House, turning in its direction down Pennsylvania Avenue and reaching out their hands in prayer.

“I thank you that President Obama has issued a proclamation, a powerful proclamation for this day of prayer,” said Dave Butts, president of Harvest Prayer Ministries of Terre Haute, Ind. “I thank you, Lord, that he is instructing the Justice Department to take a stand against this judicial ruling that would declare this day unconstitutional.”

While Obama issued a proclamation — as he did last year — he has not continued the tradition of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who held an observance at the White House with task force leaders during his presidency.

“Prayer has been a sustaining way for many Americans of diverse faiths to express their most cherished beliefs, and thus we have long deemed it fitting and proper to publicly recognize the importance of prayer on this day across the nation,” Obama said in his proclamation. (RNS)

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