Saturday, April 17, 2010

Day of Prayer Ruled Illegal

According to Todd Richmond of the Associated Press, "A federal judge in Wisconsin ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstituti9onal Thursday, saying the day amounts to a call for religious rights. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote that the government can no more enact laws supporting a day of prayer than it can encourage citizens to fast during Ramadan, attend a synagogue or practice magic. 'In fact, it is because the nature of prayer is so personal and can have such a powerful effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual's decision whether and when to pray,' Crabb wrote.

Congress established the National Day of Prayer back in 1952 and in 1988 set the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations calling on Americans to pray. According to Richmond, The Freedom from Religion Foundation, a Madison-based group of atheists and agnostics, filed a lawsuit against the federal government in 2008 saying that the day violated the separation of church and state.

Interesting to note is that President Barak Obama's administration has stated against this that the statute simply acknowledges the role of religion in the United States. Obama issued his own proclamation last year just as his predecessors had done since the 50's.

Judge Crabb, did, however, write that her particular ruling should not be considered a bar to any prayer days until all appeals are exhausted. President Obama plans to issue a proclamation for this year as he did last.

The tension between church and state in our country provides an ongoing debate about what role, if any, religion should play in our society. President Obama is right in saying that such a proclamation merely acknowledges that historically religion has played a significant role in our country. Our public universities, funded with state tax dollars, provide professors and classes for religious studies courses. Our military and other governmental agencies provide chaplains for the sake of our public servants who often find themselves under the kind of stress that only matters of faith can provide healing answers. As much as some might want, we cannot legislate religion out of the American consciousness, pretending that we are faith-neutral in matters of public national interest involving government agencies. In the same way, we cannot ask our public servants to shed their religious identity at the door in such a way that they are not allowed to integrate it with a faithful and responsible service to their country.

I predict that this judgment will ultimately fail to find judicial support if it should arise again to the highest court in the land. There are limits where we will go in trying to officially neuter this country of its religious nature. I am hopeful that this conviction will keep such unnecessary rulings mere footnotes in courthouse record books.


Steve said...

I have issues with the "National Day of Prayer" that are theological in nature, not political. If we believe that there is only one Triune God and all other "gods" are idols, then why do we engage in prayer with those to reject the Triune God? If I pray with a Muslim, do I not acknowledge that their pray to "god" is just as effective as my prayer to Christ?

Don Engebretson said...


I would agree with you that praying with those who do not believe in the true God is wrong (and a direct violation of the First Commandment). Undoubtedly many who participate in events on the "National Day of Prayer" do just that, thereby truly weakening, if not removing, a clear Christian witness.

My point in this post, however, was simply the idea of legislating religion out of the public square. Personally, I do not participate in "National Day of Prayer" events, nor do I promote it in my church. Actually, I see little use in having to set aside a day to do what should be intrinsic to the very nature of the church. So, I really am not defending the idea of this day, as such. However, for a judge to declare it illegal speaks to the broader issue of the role that faith and religion will play within the confines of our governmental structure, and here I am most interested in the freedom to practice it and not the government in any way mandating or legislating it. Of course, I have a vested interest in the subject as a practicing chaplain for a government agency, so it is from this point that I speak.

But thank you for your comments! Your point is well taken.