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.
President Bush, during his last State of the Union Address, honored Bangladeshi-born Hassan Askari who, in a selfless act, jumped to the aid of four Jewish commuters when a group of thugs allegedly responded to their Jewish season's greeting by attacking them. This Brooklyn Muslim took a stand for America’s freedom of religion; we should all be willing to do the same.
As we come together to pray this year, may we also say a prayer for those believers in the world who are not free to exercise their faith. In Afghanistan, when a Muslim believer converted to Christianity, he was threatened with death. Only the intervention of Secretary of State Rice allowed him to leave the country.
Unfortunately, the freedom of religion we enjoy is not embraced around the world. The Voice of the Martyrs, a group committed to the support of persecuted Christians around the world, identifies the nations where government policy or practice prevents Christians from obtaining Bibles and other Christian literature. Some have anti-Christian laws that lead to Christians being harassed, imprisoned, killed or deprived of possessions or liberties because of their witness.
The list of restricted nations includes such Islamic countries as Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Iran, Pakistan…and Iraq. In such countries, Christians pray and witness to their faith at their own risk.
Christians believe that Jesus came not to change Rome but to call individuals to faith—changing believers from within one person at a time. Sadly, it seems that when Muslims are in the majority, the goal of Islam is to establish a caliphate under Sariah Law. In a country under Sariah Law, people of other faiths would be infidels and subject to added taxation and controls.
Thankfully, the LibForAll Foundation (wwwllibforall.org), a Muslim group based in Winston-Salem, NC, is working to reduce and discredit the use of terror from within the Muslim faith and to ensure the global triumph of a pluralistic and tolerant understanding of Islam. They are creating a global network of Muslim opinion leaders in the fields of religion, education, pop culture, government, business and media, who will join in proclaiming that "the emperor has no clothes"—that radical Islam has no theological validity—and thereby mobilize the "great silent majority" of Muslims to reject the extremists' ideology of hatred and violence. Would that CAIR would take a similar stand.
On our National Day of Pray it is important to unite all faiths in being thankful for the religious freedom we have and to exercise that faith in support of our troops. But one day is not enough.
In the midst of the Normandy invasion, Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked Americans to join with him in prayer. Instead of urging a single day of prayer, FDR prayed, “Because the road is long and the desire is great. As we rise each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.”
In that same spirit of perseverance and unity, let us also pray and work together every day to extend religious freedom to others around the world.