President Biden on Wednesday issued a National Day of Prayer proclamation that touted the "power of prayer" and invited Americans to "give thanks," although the proclamation's absence of the word "God" sparked criticism and marked the first time that's happened in modern history.
By a 1952 law, every U.S. president must issue a proclamation designating a National Day of Prayer. This year the day fell on May 6.
"Today, we remember and celebrate the role that the healing balm of prayer can play in our lives and in the life of our Nation," the proclamation reads. "As we continue to confront the crises and challenges of our time – from a deadly pandemic, to the loss of lives and livelihoods in its wake, to a reckoning on racial justice, to the existential threat of climate change – Americans of faith can call upon the power of prayer to provide hope and uplift us for the work ahead."
On the National Day of Prayer, "we unite with purpose and resolve, and recommit ourselves to the core freedoms that helped define and guide our Nation from its earliest days," it reads.
"We celebrate our incredible good fortune that, as Americans, we can exercise our convictions freely – no matter our faith or beliefs," it reads. "Let us find in our prayers, however they are delivered, the determination to overcome adversity, rise above our differences, and come together as one Nation to meet this moment in history."
The proclamation, though, omits the word "God," making Biden the first president not to include "God" in his proclamation in the modern history of National Day of Prayer proclamations. The omission is ironic, because secular groups in recent months have criticized Biden for discussing religion too much.
According to the text of proclamations at UC Santa Barbara's American Presidency Project, every proclamation since 1953 – the first year proclamations were required under law – had included "God" until this year. Most proclamations mentioned "God" multiple times.
David Brody, the chief political analyst for CBN News, criticized the proclamation for what it didn't include.
"Joe Biden's National Day of Prayer Proclamation has been released and it doesn't even mention God once! How do you release a proclamation about prayer and not mention God at all?" Brody wrote in a tweet.
Joe Biden’s National Day of Prayer Proclamation has been released and it doesn’t even mention God once! How do you release a proclamation about prayer and not mention God at all? Of course it mentions climate change & racial justice. Truly, this is pathetic...and not surprising! pic.twitter.com/czOQx3ioHj— David Brody (@DavidBrodyCBN) May 6, 2021
President Trump's 2018 proclamation mentioned "God" multiple times, such as: "On this National Day of Prayer, let us come together, all according to their faiths, to thank God for His many blessings and ask for His continued guidance and strength."
President Obama's 2015 proclamation referenced God three times, including in the following phrase: "Through prayer we find the strength to do God's work." Obama's 2010 proclamation read, in part, "On this day, let us give thanks for the many blessings God has bestowed upon our Nation."
President George W. Bush's 2003 proclamation read, "We come together to thank God for our Nation's many blessings, to acknowledge our need for His wisdom and grace, and to ask Him to continue to watch over our country in the days ahead."
President Clinton's 1995 proclamation read, "Let us not forget those painful lessons of our past, but continue to seek the guidance of God in all the affairs of our Nation."
President George H.W. Bush's 1991 proclamation read, "As one Nation under God, we Americans are deeply mindful of both our dependence on the Almighty and our obligations as a people He has richly blessed."
President Reagan's 1987 proclamation encouraged Americans to "turn our faces and our hearts to God not only at moments of personal danger and civil strife, but in the full flower of the liberty, peace, and abundance that He has showered upon us."
President Carter's 1979 proclamation read, "We endure and remain a land of hope because of the basic goodness and strength of our people and because the God of us all has shown us His favor."
President Ford's 1976 proclamation, issued during the nation's bicentennial celebration, read, "Let us also reflect on the profound faith in God which inspired the founding fathers."
President Nixon's 1973 proclamation read, "America is a nation under God."
President Johnson's 1967 proclamation read, "Let each of us pray that God will endow us with the constancy to prevail in defense of freedom, and with the courage and resolution to preserve and extend His blessings of liberty."
President Kennedy's 1962 proclamation read, "May we especially ask God's blessing upon our homes, that this integral unit of society may nurture our youth and give to them the needed faith in God, in our Nation, and in their future."
President Eisenhower's 1959 proclamation read, "Let us remember that our God is the God of all men, that only as all men are free can liberty be secure for any, and that only as all prosper can any be content in their good fortune."
President Truman's 1952 proclamation encouraged Americans to "beseech God to grant us wisdom to know the course which we should follow."
In 1952, Truman signed a bill into law requiring presidents to issue a National Day of Prayer proclamation.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.