Day of Prayer unconstitutional, may be abolished

Enacted in 1952 and amended in 1988, the law designating the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer during which the people of the United States “may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups and as individuals” has been observed by many Americans each year.

And May 6, 2010 may be the last one this country celebrates.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group of primarily atheists and agnostics, argued in a lawsuit it filed against President Barack Obama and White House Press Secretary Robert L. Gibbs that the National Day of Prayer is a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

The federal judge in Wisconsin that presided over the case, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, ruled last Thursday in favor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and declared the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.

In her opinion for the case Judge Crabb wrote, “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 fact, it is because the nature of prayer is so personal and can have such a powerful effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual’s decision whether and when to pray,” she wrote.

The controversial ruling has predictably garnered significant outcry from people who disagree with it and think the National Day of Prayer is constitutional and serves a legitimate and necessary purpose.

“This is a concerted effort by a small but determined number of people who have tried to prohibit all references to the Creator in the public square … ­this is unconscionable for a free society,” said Shirley Dobson, chairwoman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a privately funded organization that encourages participation in the National Day of Prayer, in a press release.

While the ruling will likely be appealed, I sincerely hope that after we reach the end of a long line of litigation and arguments, the National Day of Prayer will be rejected, repudiated and abandoned.

There are a copious number of places of worship in the United States. We are all free to pray any day, any time and for however long we would like to.

But the government should not be sponsoring and endorsing an event where we are all explicitly being encouraged to participate in an inherently religious activity. It is a direct violation of the First Amendment, and the government has no business involving itself in these matters.

The National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional and hopefully May 6, 2010 will be the last time we’ll have to give it unearned and unwarranted consideration and recognition.

Reach Austin at acyost@asu.edu


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