Federal Court Rules National Day of Prayer Unconstitutional

April 15, 2010

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U.S. District Court Judge Barbara B. Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin today ruled that the federal statute designating a yearly National Day of Prayer ( 36 U.S.C. § 119 ) violates the separation of church and state enshrined in the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.  

Judge Crabb's decision granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs in Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama .  FFRF originally filed the lawsuit in 2008 against the Bush administration to prevent the government from declaring the National Day of Prayer.  Judge Crabb acknowledged that under legal precedent, "some forms of 'ceremonial deism,' such as legislative prayer, do not violate the establishment clause."  She said that the National Day of Prayer, however, is different.  "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 this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience."

The statute in question states that "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."  Congress established the National Day of Prayer in 1952 and in 1988 designated the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations urging Americans to pray.  This year's National Day of Prayer falls on May 6.

An order accompanying Judge Crabb's opinion enjoins the government from enforcing the statute.  The injunction is delayed, however, until the conclusion of any appeals by the defendants.  The court's decision is controlling only within the Western District of Wisconsin, although it does provide persuasive authority for other courts that may hear similar legal challenges.  An appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is virtually certain to follow.  The case might then be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Judge Crabb should be applauded for her intellectual honesty and her courage in issuing what is sure to be an unpopular decision. In a nation where government may not meddle in religious affairs, surely federal officials have no business telling the people when they should, or should not pray.  Whether Judge Crabb's decision will survive on appeal remains to be seen.  In recent years, our federal courts have become increasingly hostile to church-state separation claims, and increasingly accommodating to  "ceremonial deism."

Comments:

#1 James Smith João Pessoa, Brazil (Guest) on Friday April 16, 2010 at 11:20am

It’s time to admit that the USA is as much of a theocracy as Iran.  Either conform or GTFO.  That’s going to be the law, like it or not. 

Personally, I GTFO years ago and have never been sorry.  Brazil, although nominally a Catholic country has more religious diversity than the USA and less government interference in secular society.  So long America, we hardly knew ye.

#2 Audrey Fain (Guest) on Friday April 16, 2010 at 5:34pm

If the Day of Prayer is Unconstutional, surely the military haolding mandatory prayer sessions for groups of troops is equally Unconstitutional.

#3 Jan Capek (Guest) on Saturday April 17, 2010 at 6:49am

Of course the judge is only a human. No matter how eloquent and correct in my view she is, I hope she gets the support of the atheists, agnostics, and people who hold the Constitution dear. Unfortunately, the religious lobby is powerful and I m really afraid that the pressure on her will be immense. We all know that godly people are not in it for the morals or the mercy. Those are the one who want the punishment in the here and now.

#4 diogenes99 on Saturday April 17, 2010 at 6:51am

If deism (as opposed to the broader concept of theism) is about a god who created the universe but does not intervene in human affairs, then why would ceremonial deism, or any deism or deists, include prayer (or oaths) as a relevant practice?

#5 Russell Blackford on Sunday April 18, 2010 at 6:28pm

It’s going to be very difficult for the higher courts to overturn this. They may want to, for all sorts of reasons, and maybe they’ll find a way. But it’s very difficult to fit National Prayer Day into the ceremonial deism theory. How is it ceremonial? I can see how the theory can be stretched with only a little bit of intellectual dishonesty to cover “under God” in the pledge or even “In God we trust” on the currency. But how does it apply here? Reading the opinion of Judge Crabb, I don’t see that the government had a lot to bring.

I’ve been predicting that “under God” will survive when the litigation is all over at Supreme Court level. It will continue to be interpreted in a revisionist way as mere historical, ceremonial language to convey solemnity. But I can’t for the life of me see how the same theory can be stretched to save National Prayer Day.

#6 aromatherapy scents (Guest) on Thursday April 22, 2010 at 11:03pm

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#7 Milton Scholl (Guest) on Friday April 23, 2010 at 1:42pm

I can see why Obama’s health bill is unconstitutional but no way for the Day of Prayer is.  There is nothing forcing anybody to pray or not to and it is far from Abama’s Health Bill which forces everybody to buy insurance and are fined if you don’t.  Bowing to groups like Freedom From Religion Foundation is against the Constitution, which guarantees everyone freedom of Religion.

#8 handyman stockport (Guest) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 at 7:49am

handyman stockport
It will continue to be interpreted in a revisionist way as mere historical, ceremonial language to convey solemnity.

#9 James Smith João Pessoa, Brazil (Guest) on Tuesday May 11, 2010 at 8:05am

Milton, your understanding of the constitution is nil.  Exactly what is unconstitutional about the Health Care plan?  Unless you can point to specific items, you are admitting you are a liar and a fool.

The Separation of church and stare does guarantee us freedom FROM religion.  But you religious reich nazis want to pass your sick beliefs into law and force them on every one. 

Most of the problems of the world are, and always have been, caused by religion.  Mankind will never truly be free until the black yoke of religion is lifted by the clear light of truth and rational thinking.

#10 avg free download (Guest) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 at 7:35am

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#11 Milton Scholl (Guest) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 at 2:31pm

(Note #1 & #9 James Smith)
I am so happy to hear you are leaving our Great County that was founded by our Fore Fathers as a Christian Nation.  I would like to say that I keep a booklet of The Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence on my desk and find no reference to Separation of Church and State. For you and all Anti Christian groups, if you are unhappy with our Heritage then get out of this county and find one you like.  You won’t do that because no other country would put up with you for destroying their country like you are destroying the USA. In other words get OUT or SHUT UP.  If you don’t we will all become Socialist, speaking Chinese and be bowing to Buda.

#12 James Smith João Pessoa, Brazil (Guest) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 at 3:14pm

Milton, you are not only a fool but a liar.  You have not one shred of proof that the USA was founded as a christian nation.  There is plenty that it was not and that the founding fathers were mostly non-religious.  Both George Washing ton and Thomas Jefferson made definite statements that the USA was NOT founded on christian principals. 

If you cannot find any reference to separation of church and state it must be because you either cannot read or have a comprehension deficit wider than the Grand Canyon.  But then, lies and deception are the standard methodology of the religious reich. 

If you were not such an idiot, you could read that I am already out of the USA and it is because of the influence of assholes like you that the country has become a hellhole for rational people.
Oh, shut up?  I guess freedom of speech is another thing you religious wing-nuts are going to stop. But free speech and rational thought has always been fatal to any religion.

BTW, everything that currently makes your life better was thought of as socialistic when introduced.  So I am sure you will decline your Social Security payments, police and fire protection, public libraries and the protection of the military.  What a total idiot you have shown yourself to be.  You are a disgrace to to every American with an ounce of patriotism.

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