Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Day o' Prayer

Praying Statue
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
In the news...


...a federal judge in Wisconsin ruled that asking citizens to pray is unconstitutional, saying the government cannot call for religious action.

Congress established the "National Day of Prayer" in 1952, and in 1988 set the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations asking Americans to pray.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison-based group of atheists and agnostics, filed a lawsuit against the federal government in 2008 arguing the day violated the separation of church and state.

President Barack Obama's administration has countered that the statute simply acknowledges the role of religion in the United States. Obama issued a proclamation last year but did not hold public events with religious leaders as former President George W. Bush had done.

Government involvement in prayer is constitutional only as long as it does not call for religious action, which the prayer day does, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote in her ruling.

"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," Crabb wrote. "In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience."


I would tend to disagree with this judge's ruling. The state is not requiring anyone to do anything. It is only suggesting that people do something that is (worst case scenario) incredibly benign and (best case scenario) incredibly powerful and helpful.

The state sometimes engages in these sorts of symbolic gestures and, as long as that is all it is, no harm no foul. One might argue that the state has better things to do and that may or may not be the case. But "unconstitutional?" Really?

Now, I will also state that I am a separation of church and state kind of guy. My main concern is that I don't want the state dallying in the business of the church or entangling the church with its machinations or - worst case scenario - corrupting the church and/or co-opting the church to do the will of the state.

I find this sort of use and abuse of the church for political ends by state players to be repulsive.

But "unconstitutional?" I don't really think so, not in this case. Move on, Court, to bigger and more important issues.


Alan said...

This will get overturned, as it should be.

In the meantime the nutjobs will scream bloody murder while secretly thanking Judge Crabb for being such a great fundraiser for their crazy causes. If they were honest, they'd send her a cut of the millions they'll be able to scare from their minions for something that will turn out to be nothing.

John said...

Strictly from the Constitutional text, I think that it can be argued that the prayer violates the establishment clause -- just not very well. The men who wrote that document felt quite comfortable calling for national prayer.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

This is one of those stupid causes celebre that become the focal point of so much spittle-flaked screeching, and really don't mean all that much. The language of the law is ambiguous; the idea that a proclamation of prayer is meddling in religious practice, while technically correct, also ignores that there is no specificity of to whom one is to pray. One could pray to Isis, or Lucifer, or whomever.

My guess is, yes, this decision will be overturned, and that will be declared a "victory" by many on the religious right. I want to know why the Freedom From Religion Foundation got all hot and bothered about this; if they were more intelligent, and less fanatic, they would make fun of the National Day of Prayer, instead of give the nut-jobs reason to carry on.

Alan said...

What's amusing is that I'll bet all the change in my pocket that, after this has been overturned, the nut jobs will still use it as evidence of the godlessness of this country. They're never ones to let the truth get in the way of a good spittle-flecked rant.

Bro. Dave said...

Ah, much ado over nothing. People of faith know when to pray. Or, at least they should.

I suspect that with the current political atmosphere in this country, some would intentionally NOT pray on that day just because President Obama asked us to!

I have always believed the government should to stay out of religion. No prayer or Bible classes in public schools, no national religious observances, no religious displays on public property. If the churches simply did their job, these wouldn't be necessary.

Al-Ozarka said...

Friends of yours, Danielsan?

Al-Ozarka said...

"If the churches simply did their job, these wouldn't be necessary."

Then feeding and housing the poor should not be a government concern, either...right?

Alan said...

Ah springtime, when trolls leave their burrows...

Bro. Dave said...

In response to Al-Ozarka...
"'If the churches simply did their job, these wouldn't be necessary.'

"Then feeding and housing the poor should not be a government concern, either...right?"

Correct. Jesus made it abundantly clear that feeding and caring for the poor is a Christian's responsibility. But in the the USA, the government stepped in and the Church (all too quickly) stepped out.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

I would go further than Brother Dave's response to Ozzie. If the churches really did their jobs, there wouldn't be hungry to feed, naked to clothe, or the lonely sitting in prison unvisited, forgotten. That's why I feel the church has failed in many respects.

What any of this has to do with the stupid lawsuit by a bunch of fanatics, I do not know . . .