National Day of Prayer Goes On Despite Controversy

The 59th Annual National Day of Prayer (NDP) was observed on Thursday despite a Wisconsin judge's ruling that the event is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb made the ruling on April 15 saying that the observance "goes beyond mere 'acknowledgement' of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context."

The ruling was widely criticized by leaders in the faith community as well as President Obama, who has issued an appeal through the Justice Department.

Alongside the ruling, controversy has also been raised surrounding NDP events in Washington.

The Rev. Franklin Graham was disinvited to speak at an event at the Pentagon after members of the faith community criticized the preacher's comments that Islam is an "evil" religion.

Graham, who had tried to appeal to President Obama directly to intervene on his behalf, ended up praying on the sidewalk in front of the Pentagon instead.

In an interview with USA Today on Wednesday, Graham was critical of Obama's "soft" stance on Islam, which he said is causing the president to lose the support of millions of evangelical Christians.

Some Christians have also been critical of Obama's low-key treatment of the NDP, which was elevated to high importance under the Bush administration.

For the second year in a row, President Obama marked the event with a proclamation that mentioned prayer as a "sustaining way for many Americans of diverse faiths to express their most cherished beliefs."

"We are blessed to live in a Nation that counts freedom of conscience and free exercise of religion among its most fundamental principles, thereby ensuring that all people of goodwill may hold and practice their beliefs according to the dictates of their consciences," Obama wrote.

"On this day, let us give thanks for the many blessings God has bestowed upon our Nation. Let us rejoice for the blessing of freedom both to believe and to live our beliefs, and for the many other freedoms and opportunities that bring us together as one Nation. Let us ask for wisdom, compassion, and discernment of justice as we address the great challenges of our time," he said.

Meanwhile, a recent Gallup Poll revealed that a strong majority of Americans, 57 percent, say that they support the National Day of Prayer observance, and over 80 percent believe that there is a God who answers prayer.

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