Washington (CNN) -- Some 58 years after President Truman signed a bill proclaiming a National Day of Prayer, Thursday's
observance may be one of the last to be officially recognized by
A federal judge declared the law unconstitutional last month, but the Justice Department is appealing the case on behalf of the White House.
U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb in Wisconsin ruled on April 15 that the 1952 law creating the National Day of Prayer violates the ban on government-backed religion.
"[I]ts sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an
inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function," Crabb
wrote in the ruling. "In this instance, the government has taken sides
on a matter that must be left to individual conscience."
The injunction against the National Day of Prayer will not take effect until
the defendants in the case, President
Obama and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, exhaust their
appeals, according to the decision.
The lawsuit against the Obama administration was brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group based in Madison, Wisconsin.
The president issued his proclamation for this year's observance less than three weeks after the
judge's ruling, but he has not announced any plans to take part in any
"I call upon the citizens of our nation to pray, or otherwise give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and
consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I invite all
people of faith to join me in asking for God's continued guidance,
grace, and protection as we meet the challenges before us," Obama said
in his official proclamation.
There will be National Day of Prayer events across Washington,
including services at the Pentagon, the Cannon House Office Building
and on the steps of the Capitol.
The Obama administration toned down White House participation in the observance last year, deciding against holding a public ceremony.
Under the Bush administration, the White House hosted an interfaith service each
year, inviting protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders for an event at
the East Room.
Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush also marked the day with a White House observance.
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