Tom Gilson

Unconstitutional? Let’s Make That Opinion Irrelevant!

The National Day of Prayer, honored in the United States for more than a half-century, is unconstitutional, a federal judge in Wisconsin has ruled.

[From Judge: Natl Day Of Prayer Unconstitutional]

The National Day of Prayer has been observed on the first Thursday in May since 1988 (other days before that). I’m not going to rush to a written opinion on what the judge ruled. I don’t agree with it, but I’m not in a position right now to analyze it.

Instead I want to raise a call to make her decision irrelevant. Christians, will you commit to fast that day, whether one meal or all three? Will you commit to at least one half-hour of prayer for our country that day? Will you commit to making May 6, 2010, the most significant American National Day of Prayer in our generation?

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10 thoughts on “Unconstitutional? Let’s Make That Opinion Irrelevant!

  1. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it already is irrelevant.

    I don’t need a government sanction to pray. I know that a lot of people are up in arms about this as Christian persecution, but really it doesn’t matter.

    Like you, I disagree with the ruling … if there’s no compulsion, then there’s no establishment … but, really, should it make a difference?

  2. I disagree with Tom and kenleonard in saying that the ruling is irrelevant. It is true that we do not need a government sanctioned day in order to prayer, but this has been an American tradition for 54 years, and it is most certainly in support of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution of our country. This is simply the first of President Obama’s changes to our country, and a statement of the anti-God and anti-god mentality of our culture. This is something we need to stand up against, and pray that our culture would be able to turn around. Only God can help us do this

  3. For the record, I do not regard the decision as irrelevant. I agree with Ken that Christians do not need government to tell us how to pray; on the other hand, as I state in a soon-to-be-published (possibly later today) BreakPoint article, America’s founding principles were very identifiably Christian, and it behooves us to stay with God and with what has led to his blessing our nation.

    (Note that this comment does not pretend to make the argument for America’s founding principles being Christian, so it would make little sense for those who disagree to point out that there is no argument here. I suggest you hold off on that until the article is published. I’ll open up a thread for that then.)

    Also in response to A Ninny Mouse: this was not “the first of President Obama’s changes to our country.” It was a federal judge in Wisconsin who rendered this judgment.

    To all commenters: please note the Discussion Policies on political discussion here. This has strong potential to become a political conversation, but I place firm limits on that.

  4. This reminds me of our trip to Williamsburg a few weeks ago. We saw a part of their “Revolutionary City” performance, where the (British) governor announced that the king would not allow the patriots to hold a day of prayer and fasting in recognition of patriots in other colonies. Furthermore, the governor announced that in the future, the king would be the only person who would be able to declare days of prayer or fasting.

    I was surprised by my visceral reaction—I immediately thought, “That’s wrong! He can’t do that!” I was ready to join the patriots right there and then.

    Of course, this ruling is different, and I don’t feel competent to judge the implications. But I think that Christians coming together to pray and fast for our country is entirely appropriate. Count me in.

  5. I’m personally quite ambivalent about this ruling, for two reasons.

    First, do we really think God is impressed by us having a national holiday? Is that what God is ultimately concerned about?

    Second, if this holiday is important to people of faith, then we shouldn’t need the government’s stamp of approval to continue celebrating it. People of faith will either step up and continue celebrating this, or we won’t, and the holiday will die out.

    Actually, after typing that last sentence, it occurs to me that maybe this ruling could have some really positive consequences. After all, what good are empty practices and empty traditions anyway?

  6. From Ninny Mouse:

    This is simply the first of President Obama’s changes to our country, and a statement of the anti-God and anti-god mentality of our culture.

    Considering Obama is named as the defendant in this case (read the full 66 pages here), I find your statement a little weird. Consider him, at least, a person of faith/seeker if not a Christian brother.

    Judge Crabb in the conclusion to her opinion says, effectively, the same thing as kenleonard does here.

    I understand that many may disagree with that conclusion and some may even viewit as a criticism of prayer or those who pray. That is unfortunate. A determination that the government may not endorse a religious message is not a determination that the message itself is harmful, unimportant or undeserving of dissemination. Rather, it is part of the effort to “carry out the Founders’ plan of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possible in a pluralistic society.” McCreary County, 545 U.S. at 882 (O’Connor, J., concurring). The same law that prohibits the government from declaring a National Day of Prayer also prohibits it from declaring a National Day of Blasphemy.

    It is important to clarify what this decision does not prohibit. Of course, “[n]o law prevents a [citizen] who is so inclined from praying” at any time. Wallace, 472 U.S. at 83-84 (O’Connor, J., concurring in the judgment). And religious groups remain free to “organize a privately sponsored [prayer event] if they desire the company of likeminded” citizens. Lee, 505 U.S. at 629 (Souter, J., concurring). The President too remains free to discuss his own views on prayer. Van Orden, 545 U.S. at 723 (Stevens, J., dissenting). The only issue decided in this case is that the federal government may not endorse prayer in a statute as it has in § 119.

    Time will only tell if this gets overturned, but as it stands Prayer Day can go forward until all appeals are exhausted.

    Defendants are ENJOINED from enforcing 36 U.S.C. § 119. The injunction shall take effect at the conclusion of any appeals filed by defendants or the expiration of defendants’ deadline for filing an appeal, whichever is later.

  7. As some more unlawyery commentary from me, note what Crabb says early on in the ruling:

    In a previous order, I concluded that plaintiffs have standing to challenge § 119, but not to challenge presidential prayer proclamations generally.

    Basically the President is allowed to stand up on any given day and say something like “I encourage all people of our great nation to come out on May 6th and pray for our nation and its leaders” and there’s nothing Dan Barker can do about it except whine. The only real complaint is the “seal of approval”, as it is, of having a law that says come out and pray vs. the nations leaders encouraging such action. Which fits with her ruling as quoted above:

    The President too remains free to discuss his own views on prayer. Van Orden, 545 U.S. at 723 (Stevens, J., dissenting).

  8. I am dismayed at this ruling against a government sanctioned Day of Prayer that has been in existence from 1952. What, we know better than they did back in ’52?

    I agree with Ninny Mouse’s comment: “This is simply …a statement of the anti-God and anti-god mentality of our culture. This is something we need to stand up against, and pray that our culture would be able to turn around. Only God can help us do this”

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