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Obama Has a Message for Americans About Persecuted 'Prisoners of Conscience

"I join all people of faith in asking for God's continued guidance, mercy and protection as we seek a more just world."

FILE - In this Dec. 4, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks about the economy and growing economic inequality, at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus in Washington. The president said the income gap between America's rich and poor is a "defining challenge of our time." Some of the wealth gap’s earliest champions - a group of bearded and tattooed protesters who called themselves Occupiers - made the problem famous in 2011 when they took up residence in a small granite plaza near the New York Stock Exchange. Two and a half years later, long after Occupy Wall Street fizzled out, income inequality is finally being taken seriously by world leaders. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci) AP Photo/ Evan Vucci\n

President Barack Obama heralded religious freedom Thursday, citing prayer as a powerful tool and calling on citizens to remember those around the world who have been abused and detained because of their religious convictions in his annual National Day of Prayer proclamation.

"Today and every day, prayers will be said for comfort for those who mourn, healing for those who are sick, protection for those who are in harm's way, and strength for those who lead," Obama said in a statement. "Today and every day, forgiveness and reconciliation will be sought through prayer."

President Barack Obama issued his National Day of Prayer proclamation Thursday (AP/ Evan Vucci)

The president went on to encourage Americans to remember those who are "being held or persecuted because of their convictions," calling these men and women "prisoners of conscience."

"Let us remember all prisoners of conscience today, whatever their faiths or beliefs and wherever they are held. Let us continue to take every action within our power to secure their release," Obama said. "And let us carry forward our nation's tradition of religious liberty, which protects Americans' rights to pray and to practice our faiths as we see fit."

The president did not specifically name individuals like Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen who has been detained in Iran since 2012. Still, the reference to those suffering as a result of their faith serves as a departure from his 2013 proclamation, which focused more on the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre and the Boston Marathon bombings.

Abedini's wife, Naghmeh, has been critical of the Obama administration for not acknowledging her husband's plight, though she commended the president for publicly calling on Iran to release her husband during the National Prayer Breakfast in February.

In his statement, Obama called on all citizens to remember those suffering for their religious beliefs and said he too will embrace the personal power of prayer.

"I invite the citizens of our nation to give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I join all people of faith in asking for God's continued guidance, mercy and protection as we seek a more just world," Obama said.

The National Day of Prayer was created in 1952 by a joint congressional resolution and signed into law by President Harry Truman. As is customary, Obama has followed previous presidents in issuing a proclamation in observance of the day.

An estimated 40,000 events will be held in honor of the National Day of Prayer.

Atheists and nonbelievers are once again observing their alternative event, the National Day of Reason, which, instead of prayer, is aimed at spreading “reason” and secular tenets.

Read Obama's 2014 National Day of Prayer proclamation in its entirety here.

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