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April 28, 2010

Column #1,496

No More National Days of Prayer?

By Mike McManus 

                U.S. Judge Barbara Crabb has ruled unconstitutional a Congressional law asking the President to declare “the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups and as individuals.”

                She said the law violated the First Amendment which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion…”  She agreed with the Freedom From Religion Foundation which argued that the statute is unconstitutional because it “endorses prayer and encourages citizens to engage in that particular religious exercise.”

                Her decision has been “stayed” pending an appeal, so the National Day of Prayer will be held May 6. President Obama will issue a call for prayer.  But it may be the last time he does so.

                “The judge has, in effect, declared 250 years of American Christian heritage is unconstitutional,” declared Alan Sears, President of the Alliance Defense Fund.

Shirley Dobson, chairman of National Day of Prayer Task Force which has helped organize 30,000 prayer events, asserted, “National days of prayer have occurred since 1775, when the Continental Congress asked the nation to join in a petition for divine guidance. Since then, 34 of 44 U.S. Presidents have called for days of prayer during times of crisis, including George Washington during the Revolutionary War, Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, Woodrow Wilson during World War I, Franklin Roosevelt during World War II, George H.W. Bush during Desert Storm, and George W. Bush during Iraqi Freedom.”

                Interestingly, four of the presidents who did not call for National Days of Prayer died in office!  In 1952 during the Korean War Billy Graham led a six-week crusade in Washington which culminated with his call for a national day of prayer: “Ladies and gentlemen, our Nation was founded upon God, religion and the church…

                “What a thrilling, glorious thing it would be to see the leaders of our country today kneeling before Almighty God in prayer…We have dropped our pilot, the Lord Jesus Christ, and are sailing blindly on without divine chart or compass, hoping somehow to find our desired haven.”

                Congress responded with a law establishing a National Day of Prayer which President Truman signed. In 1988 Congress amended the law unanimously to designate the first Thursday of May as the annual National Day of Prayer.

                Judge Crabb argued, “Religious expression by the government that is inspirational and comforting to a believer may seem exclusionary or even threatening to someone who does not share those beliefs.” 

                In fact, the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked the Pentagon to disinvite Franklin Graham, son of Billy, from speaking at the Pentagon’s observance of the National Day of Prayer, and was elated when the invitation was withdrawn.  After the 9/11 attack, Franklin called Islam “a very evil and wicked religion.”

                In a recent interview Graham refused to back down. “If you look at what the religion does just to women, women alone, it is horrid. And so yes, I speak out for women. I speak out for people that live under Islam that are enslaved by Islam and I want them to know they can be free.”           

                “It’s unfortunate that the military felt they needed to bow to the complaints of just a couple of people, when about 89 percent of American people are Christians.”

                An Amicus brief of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), on behalf of 31 Members of Congress noted that the National Motto, “In God We Trust” is inscribed on a wall in the House Chamber. The Supreme Court declared that America’s First Congress “did not consider opening prayers as proselytizing activity or as symbolically placing the government’s official seal of approval on one religious view.” Therefore, it upheld Nebraska’s practice of opening its sessions with prayer by a paid chaplain, in Marsh v. Chambers.

                “To invoke Divine guidance on a public body entrusted with making the laws is not, in these circumstances, an `establishment’ of religion…it is simply a tolerable acknowledgement of beliefs widely shared among the people of this country,” said the Court.

                Exactly.  There’s a similar history for a National Day of Prayer. The Continental Congress in 1777, 1781 and 1782 urged states to set apart a day for prayer and thanksgiving. Even James Madison, the drafter of the First Amendment, issued four proclamations calling America to a day of prayer.

                Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, tartly denounced Crabb’s ruling: “Contrary to her opinion, this ruling does not promote freedom, it crushes it.”

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