Federal District Court Rules "National Day of Prayer" Unconstitutional

by Shaker Jadelyn, linguist, witch, feminist, pacifist, progressive, activist, writer, queer, gamer, musician, exile, lover, and superhero, in no particular order.

Last summer, I decided to face one of my fears by taking a public speaking class. The final project for the class was a persuasive speech. I, loving controversy as I do, decided to argue that the National Day of Prayer should be abolished, a position which I took not only for the fun of arguing it to a not-terribly-receptive class, but because I genuinely believed it to be true, and still do.

Well, I got my wish today. A Wisconsin federal district court held yesterday, in a suit brought against the President by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, that the law requiring the President to declare a National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment. The NDoP will still be held this year; the judge added a 30-day stay on his order to allow time for appeals, as is customary, and that extends past the first Thursday in May, so President Obama will still issue the proclamation this year.

But this? Is still a huge step forward for non-believers in America, or those who do not "pray" in the traditional sense of the word, or just those who understand the concept of separating church and state and would like to see it upheld. And it deals a hefty blow to the dominionist types, who are forever arguing that America is a Christian nation, to be told outright that even a non-sectarian and inclusive (for some value of "inclusive", which pointedly does not include atheists or agnostics) Day of Prayer, when mandated by law, is unconstitutional.

Of course, since the right-wing Christians in charge of the National Day of Prayer Task Force were upset over just the scaling-back of Obama's first declarations of the NDoP, from Bush-style prayer breakfasts and public events to a quiet signing and no events at the White House at all, you can bet they are going to flip. their. shit. over a judge declaring the whole thing unconstitutional. The judge, forseeing this, added this explanation to the end of her judgment:
I understand that many may disagree with that conclusion and some may even view it 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." .... 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.... And religious groups remain free to "organize a privately sponsored [prayer event] if they desire the company of likeminded" citizens.... The President too remains free to discuss his own views on prayer.... The only issue decided in this case is that the federal government may not endorse prayer in a statute as it has in §119.
Will this stop the Dobsons and their NDoP Task Force from claiming this as religious persecution? I highly doubt it, but at this moment, I don't care. I just know that I, as an American who does not pray in the way most people mean the word, and who definitely does not recognize some kind of supreme authority-deity that might reasonably be represented by proclamations urging Americans to ask for God's blessing or offer thanks "to God", am grateful that a court has recognized the marginalizing power the National Day of Prayer holds over Americans of non-deistic faith or no faith. We are Americans too, and there is no reason to have a law require the President once a year to insinuate that we're less so because we don't join the rest of the nation in prayer.

Thank you, Judge Crabb. Thank you for standing by the Founders' true intentions (both James Madison and Thomas Jefferson spoke about the problematic nature of government urging religious expression) instead of the revisionist history that would create America as a nation of faith, and to hell with the rest of us. Thank you for refusing to dismiss the case when the Obama administration asked you to. From the bottom of my godless heart, thank you.

[Cross-posted. Related Reading: On Values and Faith.]

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