National Day of Prayer 2010: Will This Year Mark the End of the Tradition?

Suzanne Murray

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Flickr photo by hpebley3
Today is the National Day of Prayer. It's a federally recognized tradition that dates back more than 40 years, and that tradition is being honored today. But this year could be the last.

Last month, Barbara Crabb, a US District Judge in Wisconsin, ruled that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional. Despite her ruling, the Obama administration issued a National Day of Prayer proclamation in which the President calls on citizens to "pray, or otherwise give thanks."

Obama's National Day of Prayer Proclamation 2010 says, in part:

It is in that spirit of unity and reflection that we once again designate the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer. Let us remember those who came before us, and let us each give thanks for the courage and compassion shown by so many in this country and around the world.

On this day of unity and prayer, let us also honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. We celebrate their commitment to uphold our highest ideals, and we recognize that it is because of them that we continue to live in a Nation where people of all faiths can worship or not worship according to the dictates of their conscience.

Let us also use this day to come together in a moment of peace and goodwill. Our world grows smaller by the day, and our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife; and to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. As we observe this day of prayer, we remember the one law that binds all great religions together: The Golden Rule, and its call to love one another; to understand one another; and to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.

Judge Crabb said a 1988 law requiring the annual proclamation of the National Day of Prayer by the President violates the constitution because the event's "sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context." Her decision comes from a case filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The statute in question -- 36 USC § 119 -- states: "The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals."

Some organizations and people see the statue as a violation of the First Amendment since the law mandates a National Day of Prayer and our country is founded on a tradition of separation of church and state; others say it doesn't force public prayer on anyone -- it's just an option.

In fact, according to the White House, the President is praying privately today instead of holding an ecumenical service, which is what former President Bush did.

The National Day of Prayer Task Force, which works to "publicize and preserve America's Christian heritage" is "frustrated" that there's no public service, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Rush Limbaugh's not happy either -- he complained that Obama is "asserting his authoritarian control."

Isn't the President just doing what the National Day of Prayer allows?

Are you praying today? Publicly or privately? What do you think about the National Day of Prayer? Is it unconstitutional?

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