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National Day of Prayer a testament to America's uniqueness, backers say

National Day of Prayer activities include speeches and gatherings of many different faiths. Controversial to some, the National Day of Prayer has roots in the earliest days of the nation.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / May 5, 2011

President Bush delivers his remarks at Washington's National Cathedral on Sept. 16, 2005, during a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance service for the victims of hurricane Katrina.

Susan Walsh/AP

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Los Angeles

Black activist Najee Ali will be attending Muslim services at Bilal Islamic Center in Los Angeles, where after standard prayers, a speaker will briefly address the killing of Osama bin Laden.

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Episcopal priest the Rev. Albert Cutie will attend Trinity Cathedral in downtown Miami with virtually all Christian denominations as well as Imams and Rabbis in attendance. [Editor's note: The original version misstated Father Cutie's religion.]

University of Minnesota’s Nick Campbell, who calls himself a “non-denominational Christian,” will likely be “too caught up in my own schedule, agenda, schooling, etc…. too distracted to pray … something I am always working on.”

The common denominator is that all of the above consider themselves highly religious people who heartily welcome today’s National Day of Prayer, a day formally designated by Congress and President Harry Truman in 1952 and carried on by every president since. Similar proclamations were signed last year by all 50 state governors and those of several US territories.

“I think this day is a huge deal and very important for a nation like ours based on Judeo-Christian principles to really reflect,” says Father Cutie, author of “Dilemma: A Priest’s Struggle with Faith and Love." “This is not just a way of dealing with news on the economy and terrorism but to teach future generations long term to put their trust in a higher power, no matter what they consider that to mean.” [Editor's note: The original version misstated the name of Father Cutie's book.]

Separation of church and state?

That comment makes some people – atheists and civil libertarians – uncomfortable with what they feel is the day’s foggy blend of patriotism and religion. For others, it seems to be a clear violation of America’s constitutional separation of church and state. But legal analysts say the proclamation passes legal muster because it does not force people to pray on this day.

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