Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Day o' Prayer
MADISON, Wis. (CBS/AP)
...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.