The evangelization of National Day of Prayer

Q: Did the Pentagon do the right thing by disinviting evangelist Franklin Graham from a National Day of Prayer event … Continued

Q: Did the Pentagon do the right thing by disinviting evangelist Franklin Graham from a National Day of Prayer event next week? Should government officials decide who can or cannot speak at such an event? Should the government proclaim a National Day of Prayer? Was a federal judge right to rule it unconstitutional?

The disinviting of Franklin Graham to the National Day of Prayer highlights the myriad problems that arise when the government takes a leading role in an activity that is best left to religious leaders. But, if the U.S. government believes it has a duty and right to proclaim a National Day of Prayer, it must ensure that the day is inclusive and open to people of all faiths and backgrounds. As Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmum said, “When the government puts its imprimatur on a particular religion it conveys a message of exclusion to all those who do not adhere to the favored beliefs. A government cannot be premised on the belief that all persons are created equal when it asserts that God prefers some.”

Unfortunately, “inclusion” has not been the underlying theme of the National Day of Prayer in previous years. Actually, exclusion has been emphasized. The Pentagon’s invitation to Graham would only have continued that troubling trend. Officials in the Pentagon are to be congratulated for listening to patriotic critics, seeing their mistake and its negative ramifications, and, thus, reversing its own error by rescinding the invitation to Graham.

Just last year, Graham stated, “[T]rue Islam cannot be practiced in this country. You can’t beat your wife. You cannot murder your children if you think they’ve committed adultery or something like that, which they do practice in these other countries… I don’t agree with the teachings of Islam and I find it to be a very violent religion.”

In 2001, Graham commented, “We’re not attacking Islam but Islam has attacked us. The God of Islam is not the same God. He’s not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It’s a different God, and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion.” Even as the Pentagon was weighing its decision about Graham, he was on a radio station in New York explaining that Islam is evil.

Clearly, Franklin Graham is not someone with whom Muslims would feel comfortable leading them in prayer. I can’t imagine that an imam who made equivalently negative comments about Christianity or Judaism would ever be invited to the National Day of Prayer.

But the issue at the heart of the National Day of Prayer is larger than Franklin Graham. As currently commended and observed, the National Day of Prayer erases the important boundary in our country between government institutions and religion. For too long, the nature of the day has been shaped by Shirley Dobson and other evangelical fundamentalists who believe only Christians’ prayers get God’s attention. Devotees of other religions in our land have been forewarned that the National Day of Prayer events are “Christian” meetings.

Personally, I prefer that the President of the United States not tell people when to pray and about what to pray. Calls to prayer appropriately come from independent groups and/or individuals without any government support or involvement. Prayer is personal and voluntary by nature–a matter of the spirit; not a response to a government mandate or a social demonstration intended to call attention to its religiosity.

Religious freedom is a quintessential right in our nation, and the separation of religion from civil institutions serves to protect this freedom. In the recent ruling on the National Day of Prayer by a federal judge, the declared unconstitutionality of the event shows the critical line of separation that is blurred if not ignored by having the government proclaim the National Day of Prayer. And, it’s simply not necessary. The importance and meaningfulness that prayer has for many of us Americans is more protected than diminished by this thoughtful ruling. No one’s ability to practice their faith would be inhibited if the government left prayer to the prerogative and practice of religious people in this nation. Such a situation also would ensure the highest possible protection of our religious freedoms.

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  • cassie123

    I have no problem with the National Day of Prayer. I don’t think it infringes on on anyones right…as no one has to participate. If you don’t like it – don’t pray. If you don’t like memorial day — don’t celebrate it.As for the disinvitation of Mr. Graham – I thought it was unfair. I understand that an imam might not like what Graham said…but an imam probably would not like what all Christians believe — that Christianity (Jesus Christ) is the only way to heavan and that Islam has it wrong. Christians would also not like what Islam has to say. Islam will not like what Buddhists believe and vice versa…and on and on it goes. These are religions — belief systems which are different — which is precisely why they are distinct religions. If the Pentagon was so scared of hurting anyone’s feelings, they should have just not had the celebration. This just gets ridiculous. Well I find it offensive that I have been told that because I am 1) an American and 2) a Christian I should be killed since I don’t subscibe to Islam. Somehow, I don’t think anything will be done…but you can throw out the Christian from the group…how is that inclusive? That is the opposite of inclusion. That is favoring certain religions over another.

  • Alex511

    fr cassie123:>As for the disinvitation of Mr. Graham – I thought it was unfair…No, it was NOT “unfair”. Graham needs to shut his pie hole when it’s clearly obviously that he has no idea what he is talking about. His father must be just sooo proud of little frankie.

  • coryasimmons

    Cassie123 – Would you have no problem with the National Day of Femail Circumcision? If you don’t like it – don’t practice it. You demonstrate with your response you’ve completely missed the point in all of this. If the purpose of the day isn’t to prompt some sort of action, if the day is only so those who want to pray can pray, we’ve already got freedom of religion to cover that. Assigning a day to say that you can go do what you’re already allowed to do makes no sense. If you’re trying to prompt prayer on the other hand – you’ve clearly stepped over the line as the government is then endorsing religion or certain types of it. Stop trying to push your jesus on the rest of us.You also demonstrate you didn’t understand what was being said about the imam. The imam was brought up in the context of imagining the Pentagon inviting an imam, and here’s the important part, that had said christianity was an evil religion – don’t think it would fly do you? Were you told those 2 things that offend you by someone the Pentagon has brought in to speak at the celebration? No? Then I fail to see why you being offended should matter. “Throw out the christian from the group” – Do you really think christianity isn’t going to be represented?It comes off like you’re just mad because you want our government to endorse your jesus worship. Can’t you be happy that our government simply makes sure you can keep worshipping?

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    As a representative of the “Southern Baptist Convention”, maybe Franklin Grahma could be allowed to offer an official prayer right after the prayer from the “Salvation Army” and just before the prayer form the “Unification Church.”

  • compchiro

    Cassie123,”As for the disinvitation of Mr. Graham – I thought it was unfair.”I would argue that his invitation was at best unfair and at worst extremely poorly thoght out. “I understand that an imam might not like what Graham said”That was not the issue. What WAS the issue is the blatant and continual hatemongering against Islam (and other religions) that Graham espouses. It is a shame that you are not able to understand the difference. “If the Pentagon was so scared of hurting anyone’s feelings, they should have just not had the celebration.”It was not “hurting feelings”. It was having a blatant hatemonger speak. BIG difference. “Well I find it offensive that I have been told that because I am 1) an American and 2) a Christian I should be killed since I don’t subscibe to Islam.”Since the Pentagon had not invited a cleric who espouses said views your offense is irrelevant. In fact, MOST mainstream Muslim clerics would not say such things. “but you can throw out the Christian from the group…how is that inclusive?”No one is throwing out the Christain. They are removing the hatemonger. Other Christian clerics will be there.

  • deepthought1

    These are sad times for the Church’s. But not sad times for hope.