April 16, 2010

National Day of Prayer is Unconstitutional

nationaldayofprayer.jpgYesterday turned out to be a big day for proponents of church-state separation. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled in favor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, determining that the federal law establishing a National Day of Prayer violates the establishment clause of the Constitution.

This case goes back to 2008, when the FFRF sued then President Bush and his press secretary Dana Perino. Of course, the defendants are now President Obama and press secretary Robert Gibbs. The law establishing a National Day of Prayer goes all the way back to 1952 when Rev. Billy Graham helped to establish it.

This ruling is significant because Judge Crabb essentially enjoined President Obama from enforcing the law (but stayed the injunction until the appeals process runs its course). Since the first Thursday in May is typically the National Day of Prayer, I'd expect we'll see it happen as usual this year.

According to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the White House has already indicated that the National Day of Prayer will in fact be held as usual this year. This is disappointing because it suggests that they plan to appeal this ruling. I can't help thinking that such a move would demonstrate quite conclusively that President Obama is no friend to secular Americans.

It appears that the primary argument the Obama administration has made for maintaining the National Day of Prayer is one of tradition. Judge Crabb correctly rejected this argument, noting:
No tradition existed in 1789 of Congress requiring an annual National Day of Prayer on a particular date. It was not until 1952 that Congress established a legislatively mandated National Day of Prayer; it was not until 1988 that Congress made the National Day of Prayer a fixed, annual event.
The part of Judge Crabb's 66-page ruling that I found particularly compelling was her clear recognition that a National Day of Prayer "serves no purpose but to encourage a religious exercise."

This is a big win and should be celebrated as such. Based on what we've seen from the Supreme Court lately, I will be somewhat surprised if it isn't overturned. Of course, the Obama administration does not have to appeal it. Wouldn't that be a nice change?

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