A federal judge in Wisconsin has declared the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.
Judge Barbara Crabb ruled in mid-April that government recognition of the day violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The decision “carries out the Founders’ plan of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possible in a pluralistic society,” wrote Crabb.
Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund want President Obama to appeal the decision.
“The National Day of Prayer provides an opportunity for all Americans to pray voluntarily according to their own faith – and does not promote any particular religion or form of religious observance,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Joel Oster. “It does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and this decision should be appealed.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, was quick to criticize the decision. “It is unfortunate that this court failed to understand that a day set aside for prayer for the country represents a time-honored tradition that embraces the First Amendment, not violates it,” he said. “This is the first step in what could be a lengthy legal process that ultimately puts this issue before the Supreme Court.”
The National Day of Prayer is Thursday, May 6.
Shirley Dobson, Chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force and wife of Focus on the Family Founder Dr. James Dobson, said, “Since the days of our Founding Fathers, the government has protected and encouraged public prayer and other expressions of dependence on the Almighty.
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, whether it be the Ten Commandments, the Pledge of Allegiance, or the simple act of corporate prayer – this is unconscionable for a free society.”
In 1952, President Harry Truman signed into law a joint resolution of Congress to set aside an annual National Day of Prayer. In 1988, Congress amended the law, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan, for the purpose of establishing a more particular date. The law currently reads, “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.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged the constitutionality of the statute in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.
The tradition of designating an official day of prayer actually began with the Continental Congress in 1775, after which President George Washington issued a National Day of Thanksgiving Proclamation. Ever since, American presidents have made similar proclamations and “appeals to the Almighty.” Historically, all 50 governors, along with U.S. presidents, have issued proclamations in honor of the National Day of Prayer.