America Doesn't Have a Prayer; Public Prayer Does Not Establish an Official Religion

Article excerpt


If there is one thing this country needs right now, it is prayer. Thus, it was a singular case of bad timing last week when Judge Barbara B. Crabb of the U.S. District Court in Madison, Wis., ruled that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional. The observance was established in 1952 as a day when presidents issue proclamations asking Americans to pray, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation brought suit in 2008 on the grounds that the law violates the First Amendment ban on establishment of religion. Judge Crabb agrees. We dissent.

National days of prayer have been declared since the earliest days of the republic. Our Thanksgiving holiday is rooted in the 1789 decree by President George Washington that the nation "unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations .. [and] to render our national government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a government of wise, just

and constitutional law "Likewise, Abraham Lincoln in 1861 called for"a day of humiliation, prayer and fasting for all the people of the nation "He recommended that Americans"observe and keep that day according to their several creeds and modes of worship, in all humility and with all religious solemnity."

The 1983 Supreme Court case Marsh v. Chambers, which upheld the right of the Nebraska Legislature to have an invocation, is one of the most cited regarding Establishment Clause issues. In it, the high court affirmed that such long-standing, nondenominational customs and practices are constitutionally sound. It can hardly be thought that in the same week members of the First Congress voted to appoint and to pay a chaplain for each House and also voted to approve the draft of the First Amendment for submission to the states, the court argued, they intended the Establishment Clause of the Amendment to forbid what they had just declared acceptable.

Even the fact that some opposed the practice at that time does not weaken the force of the historical argument, the Supreme Court maintained. …