A friend of mine posted a link to this article about a judge in Wisconsin who ruled that the National Day of Prayer, which was authorized by Congress in 1952 and has been celebrated on the first Thursday in May since 1988, is unconstitutional. She ruled that it “violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on government endorsement of religion” because “it 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”. “In this instance,” she wrote, “the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.”
Now, in general I’m in favor of the government staying out of religion, because I appreciate the freedom to practice my faith and think that the government shouldn’t be dictating too many of our personal beliefs and morals (except to protect people, like in the case of murder, etc.), but this ruling seems like a misapplication of the First Amendment.
Just as a refresher, the First Amendment says:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The national day of prayer does not promote a specific religion or form of prayer (though it’s obviously aimed at those who worship a deity — or deities). It’s also not mandatory for anyone to participate, including the president (though Bush held a gathering at the White House each year to commemorate the day, last year Obama chose to merely issue a proclamation). And frankly, the day of prayer is not widely publicized, even within the church. As far as I can see, it doesn’t prohibit anyone’s freedom to choose who/what/when/how/if they want to worship.
Just my two cents.
If the government does cancel the National Day of Prayer in the future, though, I won’t feel crushed. Is it unconstitutional? No, I don’t believe so. Is it necessary? Again, no. Regardless of whether the government proclaims a day of prayer, prayer will continue. And really, the church is still the one who should be responsible for the call to prayer for our country. As of right now, we are free to issue that call whatever day we want.