At a time when Americans may be turning to prayer more than ever, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump will honor the National Day of Prayer Thursday in the Rose Garden.
The annual observance, first marked by President Harry Truman and codified by Congress in 1952, “exists to mobilize unified public prayer for America,” according to its mission statement. Today, the event features prayers from members of many different religions.
This 2020 National Day of Prayer comes amid an ongoing global health crisis resulting in the death of more than 73,000 Americans and record unemployment claims, with houses of worship closing their doors and many Americans turning to faith as they stay inside their homes.
“We are confronted with the challenges of an invisible enemy, one that can only be defeated through unity, and our nation’s strength, love, and devotion to each other,” first lady Melania Trump said in a video ahead of this year’s observation.
Around the country, religious observers have shifted habits amid social distancing, taking to video conferencing services and livestreams during some of the year’s holiest times: Easter, Passover and Ramadan.
The coronavirus pandemic has also seen some religious leaders and groups flouting stay-at-home orders, with one Florida pastor being arrested for hosting large church services.
In past National Day of Prayer observances, the President has generally stayed on script, veering once last year to remark that he turned to God amid “witch hunts.”
“How do you go through those witch hunts and everything else? And you know what we do, Mike (Pence)? We just do it. Right? And we think about God,” Trump said at the 2019 event, also held in the Rose Garden.
He also addressed acts of mass violence, including three historically black churches in Louisiana destroyed by arson and an anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and announced new actions on protections for conscience rights.
And in 2018, Trump signed an executive order creating an initiative that he said would focus on religious liberty and faith-based programs.
The first lady is expected to deliver an introductory prayer Thursday as she has in past years, and Vice President Mike Pence is also expected to attend.