By Hamil R. Harris and David Waters
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 7, 2010; B02
In small groups and alone, about 100 people gathered Thursday on the steps of the U.S. Capitol for what participants said was to be a low-key ceremony to mark the annual National Day of Prayer.
Amid the liquid noises of a nearby fountain and the sounds of people just walking by, participants could be heard making hushed pleas to God.
"Don't expect any music or sermons. Don't expect any pomp. Just prayer," said Nancy Sharman, area leader of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. "No personalities. Just prayer. No party divisions. Just prayer."
Congress established the National Day of Prayer in 1952. But last month, a federal judge in Wisconsin declared that the government's observance of the event is unconstitutional, calling it "an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function."
The ruling angered many in the faith community.
The Obama administration has decided to appeal the ruling. And as he did last year, President Obama issued a National Day of Prayer proclamation: "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."
Thursday's prayer event marked the conclusion of a five-day, four-night Bible reading held on the Capitol steps and organized by the Rev. Michael Hall, executive director of the International Bible Reading Association. More than 1,000 participated in the marathon reading, said Hall, who is also pastor of The Peoples Church on Capitol Hill.
"As Christians we don't need a political strategy, we just need God's word," Hall said.
The Rev. Franklin Graham prayed briefly Thursday morning outside the Pentagon, which had disinvited him from a prayer day observance because of anti-Islam remarks.
Graham then went to the Cannon House Office Building, next to the Capitol, to participate in what amounted to a Christian worship service.
There, he preached a 30-minute sin-and-salvation sermon to an audience of several hundred that included members of Congress, the judiciary and the armed forces.
"My prayer is that America once again will worship the Lord Jesus Christ," Graham said. "My prayer is that America will trust Him once again. My prayer is: 'Lord, if You're willing, make our nation whole again. May we turn to You, worship You, acknowledge You, live by your ways and your standards.' God bless America."
Graham is honorary chairman of the largely evangelical National Day of Prayer Task Force, which is led by conservative Christian leaders James and Shirley Dobson.
Before he preached, Graham alluded to the Pentagon controversy: "I know we have people here of other faiths, and I certainly want to say that I love you, but, please, allow me to speak today as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I don't want to be offensive to anyone, but the only way I know how to pray and to preach is the way the Bible instructs."