A federal judge in Wisconsin ruled Thursday that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional.
National Day of Prayer “goes beyond mere ‘acknowledgment’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context,” U.S. Dist. Judge Barbara B. Crabb wrote. “In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience . . . “
“I understand that many may disagree with that conclusion and some may even view it as a criticism of prayer or those who pray. That is unfortunate. A determination that the government may not endorse a religious message is not a determination that the message itself is harmful, unimportant or undeserving of dissemination. Rather, it is part of the effort ‘to carry out the Founders’ plan of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possibly in a pluralistic society.’”
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which plans to appeal the decision. “It is unfortunate that this court failed to understand that a day set aside for prayer for the country represents a time-honored tradition that embraces the First Amendment, not violates it,” Sekulow said in a statement.
The case was filed by The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a Wisconsin-based group that challenged the constitutionality of a 1988 law giving the president authority to designate the first Thursday in May as National Day of Prayer.
Congress established the day in 1952. In 1988, it set the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations asking Americans to pray.
“The law is on our side,” said the group’s co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It is such a profound violation of conscience for Congress to direct our president to tell all citizens to pray, and that they in fact must set aside an entire day for prayer once a year. We are so gratified and delighted that Judge Crabb in her solid decision rejected revisionist history and decided this case on the merits.”
The White House issued a statement Thursday on Twitter saying: “As
he did last year, President Obama intends to recognize a National Day of
Prayer.” (Update: the Obama administration is appealing Judge Crabb’s ruling)
Obama issued a proclamation last year but didn’t hold public events with religious leaders as President George W. Bush had done. Obama’s decision unleashed a torrent of inaccurate chatter on the Web that he had canceled National Day of Prayer.
Obama’s 2009 proclamation reads, in part:
“NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 7, 2009, as a National Day of Prayer. I call upon Americans to pray in thanksgiving for our freedoms and blessings and to ask for God’s continued guidance, grace, and protection for this land that we love.”
–”This ruling is a victory for religious freedom and separation of church and state in this country,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “The government should not be directing citizens to pray. In addition to being unconstitutional, it’s also especially offensive to people who don’t believe in a god and are made to feel excluded by the observance.”
–”This decision is a tremendous victory for religious liberty. Congress has no business telling Americans when or how to pray,” said Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “Decisions about worship should be made by individuals without direction from elected officials. That’s what freedom is all about.”, hailed the decision as a “tremendous victory for religious liberty. Congress has no business telling Americans when or how to pray.”
–”Since the days of our Founding Fathers, the government has protected and encouraged public prayer and other expressions of dependence on the Almighty,” said Shirley Dobson, chairman of the (privately sponsored) National Day of Prayer Task Force and wife of Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson. “This is a concerted effort by a small but determined number of people who have tried to prohibit all references to the Creator in the public square, whether it be the Ten Commandments, the Pledge of Allegiance, or the simple act of corporate prayer – this is unconscionable for a free society.”
–”Today’s court decision is sure to be controversial. However, those willing to take the time to read it will see that Judge Crabb has crafted a decision that is sensitive to the integrity of religion by keeping government mandates out of it,” said Interfaith Alliance President Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy. “Today’s decision makes clear that just because the government may not endorse a religious message, it does not mean that a religious message is harmful. Maintaining clear boundaries between religion and government only serves to strengthen both., issued the following statement today on the federal court decision overturning the National Day of Prayer.”
–”"It sounds to me like even the judge in this case understands the power of prayer. But it’s voluntary. There’s no requirement that people pray. To act like a National Day of Prayer is a bad thing or somehow subversive is ridiculous. Surely our country needs prayer now more than ever,” said Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse.