Obama Draws Attention to Religious Liberty for National Day of Prayer, Says World Is Strengthened When 'People Can Practice Their Faith Without Coercion'

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, April 23, 2015. Obama on Thursday apologized for a counterterrorism operation in January that accidentally killed two aid workers held hostage by al Qaeda, American Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto. |

President Barack Obama is focusing his attention on religious liberty in this year's National Day of Prayer proclamation, stating that when "women and men of all backgrounds and beliefs" can "practice their faiths without fear or coercion, it bolsters our religious communities and helps to lift up diverse and vibrant societies throughout our world."

Obama's proclamation, which was issued the day before the national observance, went on to note that "we celebrate the religious liberty we cherish here at home, and we recommit to standing up for religious freedom around the world."

"Millions of individuals worldwide are subjected to discrimination, abuse, and sanctioned violence simply for exercising their religion or choosing not to claim a faith. Communities are threatened with genocide and driven from their homelands because of who they are or how they pray," continued the Obama in the emailed proclamation that was emailed to The Christian Post by the White House Press Office.

"The United States will continue to stand against these reprehensible attacks, work to end them, and protect religious freedom throughout the world. And we remember those who are prisoners of conscience — who are held unjustly because of their faiths or beliefs — and we will take every action within our power to secure their release."

Islamic State militants lead what are said to be Ethiopian Christians along a beach in Wilayat Barqa, in this still image from an undated video made available on a social media website on April 19, 2015. The video purportedly made by Islamic State and posted on social media sites on Sunday appeared to show militants shooting and beheading about 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya. Reuters was not able to verify the authenticity of the video but the killings resemble past violence carried out by Islamic State, an ultra-hardline group which has expanded its reach from strongholds in Iraq and Syria to conflict-ridden Libya. Libyan officials were not immediately available for comment. Ethiopia said it had not been able to verify whether the people shown in the video were its citizens. |

Obama's proclamation echoes some of the comments the president made during the annual National Prayer Breakfast held in Washington, D.C. earlier this year.

"We have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty. No God condones terror. No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives," said Obama back in February.

"And here at home and around the world, we will constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom — freedom of religion — the right to practice our faith how we choose, to change our faith if we choose, to practice no faith at all if we choose, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination."

Critics have often charged that Obama has a poor record on defending religious liberty both abroad and at home. They point to items like the controversial Health and Human Services' mandate, which critics say forces religious entities to provide birth control and abortion-inducing drugs that violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

There is also Obama's foreign policy efforts, which critics charge puts religious liberty concerns on the backburner. Last year, after Obama met with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the group International Christian Concern denounced the lack of attention given to the Middle Eastern nation's persecution of religious minorities.

"This visit was an excellent opportunity for the president to speak up on an issue that affects millions of Saudi citizens and millions more foreign workers living in Saudi Arabia," said ICC Middle East Regional Manager Todd Daniels in a statement.

"Seventy members of Congress specifically asked him to publicly address the issue, as well as other human rights concerns, with King Abdullah. How, despite all of this, the president could stay completely silent about religious freedom during his meeting is remarkable."

Obama's proclamation on National Day of Prayer came as part of the overall Thursday observance, which according to organizers will have an estimated 43,000 gatherings.

"We are anticipating the largest day of prayer from coast to coast with more than 43,000 prayer gatherings," said John Bornschein, vice chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force and an executive member of the National Prayer Committee, to CP last week.

For this year, the theme of the widely observed Day of Prayer will be "Lord, Hear Our Cry" and is accompanied by the Bible verse 1 Kings 8:28, which reads: "Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day."

Bornschein told CP that this theme emphasizes "the need for individuals, corporately and individually, to place their faith in the unfailing character of their Creator, who is sovereign over all governments, authorities, and men."

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