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On National Day of Prayer, President Bush ties prayer to responsible use of freedom

WASHINGTON (BP)–The National Day of Prayer is an occasion for Americans to “ask that our nation, our leaders and our people use the freedom we have been given wisely,” President Bush said May 5 at the White House.

Speaking on the 54th National Day of Prayer, the president told a gathering, “Freedom is a divine gift that carries with it a tremendous human responsibility…. [W]e pray as Americans have always prayed -– with confidence in God’s purpose, with hope for the future and with the humility to ask God’s help to do what is right.”

The morning event in the East Room marked the fifth consecutive year the president has spoken at such an observance in the White House. In addition to events in Washington, observances were expected to be held at about 40,000 sites across the country, according to the NDP Task Force. These ranged from prayer breakfasts to gatherings at church buildings, county and city government buildings, flagpoles and athletic stadiums, the task force said.

In his six-minute speech, Bush said Americans pray for three reasons: (1) “to give thanks for our freedom;” (2) “for help in defending the gift of freedom from those who seek to destroy it;” and (3) “to acknowledge our dependence on the Almighty.”

“No government can ever take a gift from God away,” the president said. “And when we offer thanks to our Creator for the gift of freedom, we acknowledge that it was meant for all men and women, and for all times.”

Americans pray now “for the troops who are defending our freedom against determined enemies around the globe” and for their families, Bush said.

“Prayerful people understand the limits of human strength,” he said. “We recognize that our plans are not always God’s plans. Yet, we know that a God who created us for freedom is not indifferent to injustice or cruelty or evil. So we ask that our hearts may be aligned with His and that we may be given the strength to do what is right and help those in need.”

Bush issued a National Day of Prayer proclamation May 3. A transcript of the president’s remarks and a text of the proclamation are both available at www.whitehouse.gov/news.

Speaking at the White House event were NDP Task Force chair Shirley Dobson, as well as Roman Catholic priest Charles Pope, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Washington. Rabbi Kenneth Auman, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, read Psalm 98. NDP Honorary chairman Max Lucado, well-known author and pastor in San Antonio, Texas, read the NDP’s 2005 “Prayer for the Nation,” which he wrote. Peter Weaver, president of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church, prayed. The St. Olaf Choir, consisting of students from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., sang.

Among Southern Baptists attending the White House event were Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research.

In the afternoon, people gathered as part of NDP in a large caucus room of a House of Representatives office building to pray for the government and military, as well as the educational system, the media, churches and families.

Congress established the National Day of Prayer as an annual event in 1952. In 1988, the law was amended to set the first Thursday of May for its observance.

In addition to Christians and Jews, some leaders of other religious faiths, including Islam, attended the White House event.

In an official statement on its Internet site, the NDP Task Force says the day was established by Congress and “is, therefore, intended for all peoples of faith to pray to the God of their understanding.”

“However, our expression of that involvement is specifically limited to the Judeo-Christian heritage and those who share that conviction as expressed in the [1974] Lausanne Covenant,” the NDP says. “If peoples of other faiths wish to celebrate in their own tradition, they are welcome to do so, but we must be true to those who have supported this effort and volunteered their time to promote it. National Day of Prayer is not a function of the government, and, therefore, a particular expression of it can be defined by those who choose to organize it. This is not a church/state issue.”