A recent federal ruling won't stop National Day of Prayer events Thursday.
The annual observance with Americans taking time to pray in cities and communities at designated places throughout the United States was declared a violation of the separation of church and state April 15 by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of Wisconsin.
"No one can doubt the important role that prayer plays in the spiritual life of a believer. However, recognizing the importance of prayer to many people does not mean that the government may enact a statute in support of it," Crabb said.
The Obama administration said April 22 it will appeal the court decision that found the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.
In a notice also filed April 22, the Justice Department said it will challenge the decision in the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. The notice came after about two dozen members of Congress condemned the ruling and pressed for an appeal.
The case was brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison-based group of atheists and agnostics who argue the National Day of Prayer violates the separation of church and state.
In Blair and Cambria counties, the prayer events will go on as usual.
"It will not affect us," said Sharon Ray, Blair County coordinator for the National Day of Prayer. "By the Constitution, I'm allowed to pray."
This year's theme is "Prayer For Such a Time As This." Before the ruling, Ray said it was inspired by Nahum 1:7: "The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust him."
Now she said it is even more relevant.
"That's why we're praying," she said. "That's why we have a day of prayer, because we see the decline of America, trying to get away from God."
The event in Blair County will be held at noon May 6 at First United Methodist Church in Hollidaysburg.
Connie Stock, who coordinates the event in Cambria County, said Crabb's ruling won't stop the meeting in Ebensburg, either.
"I've been doing the National Day of Prayer in Cambria County for the past 15 years. It will be at the courthouse again this year, and there are no changes to locations, and I'm not having any problems," she said.
"As a matter of fact, commissioners will be out, they will be praying, our county controller will be out, he will be praying with us, the area pastors will be there, they will be praying. Things are going along as scheduled. As of right now, there is no problem and no changes," Stock said.
Connie Khoury, who coordinates citywide prayer meetings with King of Glory Revivals in Altoona, is optimistic about the effect of Crabb's ruling on this year's events.
"Sometimes people don't do something until they're told they're not allowed. We'll probably have a bigger turnout this year," she said.
"We're going to see some changes in America that we're not used to."
"Things are getting tougher, a lot of people are out of work. ... We're going to have a lot of different things happen now and it's in such a time as this that we're going to gather together in prayer," she said.
As it has done in the past, Juniata Church of the Brethren will host a prayer meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday.
"Last year ... we opened it up to churches in the area," said Pastor Robert Wharton of the church. "We had about six different churches from the community represented."
"Every time is a time for prayer, good times or bad times," he said.
Pastor Gary Dull, who has participated in the National Day of Prayer for 25 years, "believes it is one of the most essential days of the year for America."
"I believe America needs more prayer now than ever, and having an effective day of prayer for the nation is more significant in the long term than some new political program," said Dull of Faith Baptist Church in Altoona.
"I think that all of us who join together would like to see a revival where people turn back to God and forget our selfish ways ... and try to think of God," she said. "Without him, our nation cannot stand," she said.
"I think we're so independent in America that we think we do this all ourselves," Khoury said.
"I think the people that participate see the need for prayer, the power of prayer, and they'll ... know he [God] will help," she said.
"The Lord revives us and shows us what's important, what's No. 1 in our lives," Wharton said.
Those who will gather nationwide will base their petitions on guidelines from the National Day of Prayer Association.
"They do not give you a script," Ray said. "They just give you guidelines to say ... 'These are the things we basically pray for.'"
The guidelines include seeking God's blessing and guidance for the nation, government and religious leaders, the media, the military, first responders, families, the unborn, freedom and education.
"Basically it's praying about all kinds of things ... interceding one for another," Wharton said."When we pray for education, we're praying for biblical literacy for the common person," he said.
"We're praying also for unity for the people in America, because really we're all the same," Khoury said. "When we can get past the differences, we're all people and God loves us all."
"I think sometimes people lose sight of that," she said.
Wharton said that the Bible tells people to pray for their leaders.
"We're under a command to ... pray for their guidance and wisdom," he said.
Khoury, who coordinated a National Day of Prayer event at Lakemont First Church of God last year, continued the effort by leading a series of outdoor prayers in Altoona last year.
"We had it at Gospel Hill, at Highland Park, and we had it for a couple of months before it got cold," she said.
The possibility of inclement weather three years ago changed the venue for the countywide event. It used to be held on the Blair County Courthouse steps but was moved to First United Methodist Church in Hollidaysburg. It will be held there at noon Thursday.
Even though it was visually powerful to hold prayer on the courthouse steps, moving to the church has increased attendance and made it easier to hear, she said.
"You have a choice only freedom gives you: you can be governed by God or ruled by tyrants," Ray said, quoting a line commonly attributed to William Penn.
"That's why I think we need to turn to God," she said.
"It's not praying for another person to be changed, but in the process we're changed ourselves, and that's a very important thing," Wharton said. "Our attitude is adjusted ... The answers come from God himself."
"Prayer is a powerful weapon," Wharton said. "There are things we can't do but when we go to prayer there are things we can accomplish."