May 5, 2011 will see the 60th annual observance of what has been termed the National Day of Prayer, although the National Day of Prayer has been ruled unconstitutional. The fact that it still is sanctioned by politicians up to and including the president shows the power wielded by the religious right.
The National Day of Prayer was found to be in violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution in a ruling by Judge Barbara Crabb of the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin on April 15, 2010.
The National Day of Prayer “serves no purpose but to encourage a religious exercise, making it difficult for a reasonable observer to see the statute as anything other than a religious endorsement,” Judge Crabb pointed out in her ruling.
“The same law that prohibits the government from declaring a National Day of Prayer also prohibits it from declaring a National Day of Blasphemy,” she also said in her decision. Congress may no more declare a National Day of Prayer than it “may encourage citizens to fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge or practice rune magic.”
Read the text of the ruling here.
The case was brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wisconsin Specifically the case was aimed at a 1988 statute passed by Congress and signed by Ronald Reagan which gives the president the authority to name the first Thursday in May as National Day of Prayer.
Second to the argument is the original proclamation by Congress, going back to 1952. The National Day of Prayer is nothing but a relic of the Cold War, passed during McCarthy Era hysterics to help demonize “Godless Communists.” It doesn’t belong in the modern political landscape.
Even though it doesn’t belong, the National Day of Prayer has embedded itself in American politics. Last year all 50 governors, thousands of mayors and city councils, as well as the president himself issued proclamations directing Americans to prayer.
From the Pentagon to small town City Halls, public officials will openly acknowledge prayer as a tool of public policy. Not only is that just wrong, it’s bad policy.
What the faithful need to understand is that in no way is the Freedom From Religion Foundation, or other freethinkers, seeking to dissuade them from praying. They can pray 365 days a year if they so choose. What is objected to is the insertion of religious doctrine into the government.
Here is a link to a very thorough explanation of the ruling and the standing it follows.
The organization currently managing the National Day of Prayer is a den of fundamentalist theocrats who see America as God’s instrument in the world. Most of them openly profess the eminent return of Christ, and their desire to see that return. How does that differ from President Ahmadinejad of Iran proclaiming the coming soon of his apocalyptic visions?
In America today, the ruling by Judge Crabb was indeed courageous. Right wing religious fundamentalists have targeted judges they don’t agree with in the past. Hopefully, any justice hearing an appeal will come to the same obvious conclusions she did.