Only three weeks before, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago had unanimously reversed a 2010 opinion that invalidated the National Day of Prayer. Federal Judge Barbara Crabb of Wisconsin had ruled in April 2010 that a law establishing a day for the observance violated the First Amendment, but she permitted the event to proceed while her decision was appealed.
Crabb's ruling, which was overturned April 14 this year, had threatened a tradition as old as the American republic and a specific observance that was recognized for the 60th time this year. Congress passed a resolution in 1952 calling on the president to establish the National Day of Prayer as an annual event. President Truman initiated the observance the same year, and presidents since have recognized it with proclamations. In 1988, Congress amended the law to set the first Thursday of May for its observance.
President Obama issued a National Day of Prayer proclamation April 29, inviting Americans, "as their own faith or conscience directs them, to join me in giving thanks for the many blessings we enjoy, and I ask all people of faith to join me in asking God for guidance, mercy, and protection for our Nation."
In his proclamation, the president encouraged Americans to express gratitude for their freedom and to pray for the members of the U.S. military and their families, as well as for law enforcement and emergency response personnel, and people in this country and overseas impacted recently by natural disasters.
The White House issued Obama's proclamation a day after he gave the order for a secret mission that was completed early May 2 in Pakistan when an elite military unit found and killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
The National Day of Prayer was observed in about 40,000 locations in 2010, according to the National Day of Prayer (NDP) Task Force. As in many other years, the lead observance was in a House of Representatives office building in Washington, D.C.
This year's theme, as established by the NDP Task Force, was "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," which was based on Psalm 91:2: "I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."
Joni Eareckson Tada, a well-known evangelical Christian whose books have inspired many since a diving accident in 1967 left her a quadriplegic, served as honorary chairman for the NDP Task Force. She gave the keynote speech at the Capitol Hill service.
In a national prayer she wrote for this year's observance, Eareckson Tada said:
"Almighty God, you are our Mighty Fortress, our refuge and the God in whom we place our trust. As our nation faces great distress and uncertainty, we ask your Holy Spirit to fall afresh upon your people -- convict us of sin and inflame within us a passion to pray for our land and its people. Grant the leaders of our country an awareness of their desperate need of wisdom and salvation in You until sin becomes a reproach to all and righteousness exalts this nation.
"Protect and defend us against our enemies and may the cause of Christ always prevail in our schools, courts, homes, and churches. Lord God, send a spirit of revival and may it begin in our own hearts.
"Remember America, we pray. Remember the foundations on which this country was built. Remember the prayers of our nation's fathers and mothers, and do not forget us in our time of need.
"In the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen."
The NDP Task Force is a privately funded organization that says it encourages participation in the observance by people of all faiths but the events it organizes represent "a Judeo-Christian expression."
Obama's National Day of Prayer proclamation may be accessed online at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/04/29/presidential-proclamation-national-day-prayer.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.
Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net