President Joe Biden, who identifies as a devout Catholic, refrained from using the word God in his proclamation on the annual National Day of Prayer Thursday, the first president to do so since the celebratory day was established 70 years ago.
“Throughout our history, Americans of many religions and belief systems have turned to prayer for strength, hope, and guidance. Prayer has nourished countless souls and powered moral movements — including essential fights against racial injustice, child labor, and infringement on the rights of disabled Americans,” Biden’s proclamation read.
The president noted that prayer is a daily practice for many Americans, exercised under the protection of the First Amendment in the United States Constitution, adding that these rights have “helped us to create and sustain a Nation of remarkable religious vitality and diversity across the generations.”
Biden’s statement is a shift from his predecessors’ proclamations. Former President Donald Trump’s National Day of Prayer proclamation in 2020 included “God” eight times. Former President Barack Obama also included “God” twice in his 2016 proclamation, and President George W. Bush included “God” four times in his 2008 proclamation.
“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,” the statement said.
Biden went on to quote the late Congressman John Lewis, who said, “Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society. Why? Because human beings are the most dynamic link to the divine on this planet.”
The omission garnered criticism from lawmakers and religious leaders alike, including GOP Senator Ted Cruz.
“Our Government, which art in Washington, hallowed be thy taxes…” the Texas senator tweeted in response to Biden’s proclamation, which every president is required by law to make annually on the first Thursday in May.
Evangelist Franklin Graham also criticized Biden’s exclusion, telling Fox News, “Of course we need to call on God, and not just some generic ‘gods’ or some ‘power’ in the air, but on God himself … There is no one else to pray to except to God.”
“I was deeply saddened to read that President Biden is the first president to omit the word “God” in his proclamation,” Graham added in a Facebook post. “That speaks volumes doesn’t it?”