Again this year, President George Bush has asked Americans to join in the National Day of Prayer on May 1st. This year’s theme is “Prayer! America’s Strength and Shield.”
President Bush asks for prayers for “the brave members of our Armed Forces and their families. We pray for their safety, for the recovery of the wounded, and for the peace we all seek.” He has asked citizens of all faiths to participate: “I ask the citizens of our Nation to give thanks, each according to his or her own faith, for the freedoms and blessings we have received and for God's continued guidance, comfort, and protection. I invite all Americans to join in observing this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.”
Getting all faiths involved in this day has been challenging. In 2005, Troy, Michigan, became the site of a legal battleground over what a National Day of Prayer service should be. In most cities, the National Day of Prayer has been a Judeo-Christian observance. Attempts to expand the service to include other faiths often resulted in resistance from the Christian groups who had traditionally planned such events. Today, there are two events in Troy, Michigan. The Christian event meets at one time, an expanded interfaith group at another.
After a Muslim call to prayer, the Troy Interfaith Group presenters read prayers for the nation, verses on kinship and the golden rule. They sang, among other selections, “God Bless America” and “We Shall Overcome.”
CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, has asked their supporters and other religious groups to “ask that any government-sponsored ‘National Day of Prayer’ observances on May 1st be representative of our nation's religious diversity.” While certainly allowing such services, the courts have rightly affirmed that any particular National Day of Prayer celebration can be defined by those who choose to organize it. To do otherwise would be to deny the freedom of free exercise of religion in America. But there is value in welcoming the rich variety of services and prayers for compassion, peace, and dreams of a better world together.
In America, we are free to embrace and exercise any faith without fear of persecution. Obviously, people may be critical of one’s faith, but, with very few exceptions, people are not attacked for their faith. When they are, they are held accountable and condemned by all responsible citizens.