(Photo: Reuters / Kevin Lamarque)
President Barack Obama on Friday proclaimed May 5 as the National Day of Prayer, continuing a long tradition in the face of protest.
With ongoing opposition from atheists and other nonbelievers, Obama made sure this year's proclamation did not exclude any group.
"Let us be thankful for the liberty that allows people of all faiths to worship or not worship according to the dictates of their conscience, and let us be thankful for the many other freedoms and blessings that we often take for granted," he stated.
The proclamation comes just weeks after a federal appeals court overturned a 2010 ruling that found the annual prayer day unconstitutional.
In a 3-0 decision, the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals determined that the presidential proclamation imposes no requirement on a person and therefore no one is hurt by a request that can be declined.
"Those who do not agree with a president’s statement may speak in opposition to it, they are not entitled to silence the speech of which they disapprove," chief judge Frank Easterbrook, a Reagan appointee, wrote in the court opinion.
The court ruled that Wisconsin-based atheist and agnostic group Freedom from Religion Foundation lacked the legal standing to challenge the National Day of Prayer, saying that a "feeling of alienation" was not sufficient legal grounds for a lawsuit.
"Hurt feelings differ from legal injury," the court concluded.
Each year, since 1952, presidents have designated the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer.
Just before last year's prayer day, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb struck down the federal statute creating the "National Day of Prayer," concluding that it connotes endorsement and encouragement of a particular religious exercise.
The Obama administration appealed the decision and Obama went ahead with the annual presidential proclamation, where he noted that prayer has long been an important part of U.S. history.
In this year's proclamation, Obama pointed to President Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as examples of leaders who turned to the Lord in prayer when they had nowhere else to go.
"On this National Day of Prayer, let us follow the example of President Lincoln and Dr. King," he stated.
He called for prayers for the Armed Forces, those affected by natural disasters in recent months and those abroad who are seeking peace and rights in the midst of uncertainty and unrest.
"I invite all citizens of our Nation, 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."
This year marks the 60th National Day of Prayer. On Thursday, Christians across the country will observe the day under the theme "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."