Friday, April 16, 2010

Natl Day of Prayer Unconstitutional

So some judge in Wisconsin finally took the plunge and declared the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. Frankly, I agree with her.

The First Amendment expressly forbids the establishment of a religion. Government favoring one religion over another by giving one a "national day of prayer"? Yup, that'd be establishment of religion.

Now, I see no problem with people spontaneously getting together and praying, even on government property. Since that property technically belongs to them, that's just fine and dandy. However, what I do have a problem with is Congress (or any other branch of the government) setting aside a certain day for the worship of a certain god- unless, of course, they also honored every other god in the pantheon with their own days.

The thing is, for you Christians out there, we don't need a day of prayer. You don't. God listens all the time, or am I misreading the Bible? Furthermore, by trying to sustain a "national day of prayer" you foster the idea that Christians view themselves as somehow more righteous/important than everybody else. We aren't America, folks. There are tens of millions of other people in this country, and the government exists to protect all their rights, not just ours.

Do I think it should have been declared unconstitutional? Sure. Do I think it is unconstitutional? Yes. Do I think there's anything wrong with prayer? No.

I agree with the judge-
"However, recognizing the importance of prayer to many people does not mean that the government may enact a statute in support of it, any more than the government may encourage citizens to fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge or practice rune magic.""


Anonymous said...

What religion does it establish?

Liberty said...

Tragedy- IIRC, the "National Day of Prayer" is a primarily Christian event, day, etc. Being such, it is hence establishing a religion (Christianity) and promoting said religions above others.

Anonymous said...

Primarily, but not exclusively; the judge's ruling however is explicitly an act of establishing atheism over all other religions that acknowledge a god. Right?

Anonymous said...

To quote Jue Crabb: "A determination that the government may not endorse a religious message[...]"

She has endorsed the atheists' and agnostics' message which is no less an establishment of religion according to her.

Don Emmerich said...

I definitely agree with you, Liberty. For the life of me, I just don't understand why so many believers want the government involved in their spiritual lives. Who needs the state's endorsement? Who would want the state's endorsement? As I see, the state is against everything that Christianity stands for. The state is violence, coercion. Christianity is love, non-resistance, etc. The church doesn't the need the state. To the contrary, the church should do all it can to resist the state, to get the state out of its affairs.

Don Emmerich said...

Many American Christians just don’t realize how good they have it. We can worship freely. We don’t have state agents infiltrating our churches, arrested people for worshipping Christ. Throughout history, many other Christian communities haven’t had it so good. And yet some Christians are actually complaining because a judge declared that the state shouldn’t show favoritism towards Christianity? How silly. The state never stopped me from being a Christian. The state never stopped me from praying.

Don Emmerich said...

Tragedy 101:

The judge clearly didn't establish atheism. Saying that the state shouldn't show favoritism among competing metaphysical beliefs isn't the same thing as establishing one metaphysical belief over the others. Neutrality and favoritism are two different things.

Anonymous said...

Sure it did. Who filed the suit? And for what reason?

Her non-acceptance of presidence is an act of endorsing their message. There is much presidence in this case, and she ignores it all.

Teresa said...

Which religion did the National Day of Prayer prohibit or endorse?

It did not force anyone to pray nor did the day forbid anyone to pray their specific type of prayer, Christian or otherwise. Any person from any religious sect could have participlated in the National Day of Prayer. Jue Crabb is endorsing atheism over any type of religious display. She is ruled against the free exercise of religion and by doing that violated the Constitution. The National Day of Prayer was not endorsing a specific religion. This is impeding upon peoples' freedom of religion and freedom to exercise that right in public. These kinds of court decisions- pro-secularist or anti-God religion hating rulings is exactly why this society has gone downhill and their is such a lack of morality running rampant in our society. Would this have really happened if this was a Muslim Day of Prayer? Probably not.

Don Emmerich said...

“Jue Crabb is endorsing atheism over any type of religious display.”

This is simply untrue. The judge simply declared that “the government may not endorse a religious message.” She did not declare that the government has the right to endorse atheism or agnosticism. She simply stated that the government cannot endorse ANY metaphysical worldview, be it atheism, theism, polytheism, etc.

“She is ruled against the free exercise of religion and by doing that violated the Constitution.” Again, this is simply untrue. The only thing the judge declared is that the government cannot endorse prayer or any other religious activity. Here are her words: “"No one can doubt the important role that prayer plays in the spiritual life of a believer…In the best of times, people may pray as a way of expressing joy and thanks; during times of grief, many find that prayer provides comfort. Others may pray to give praise, seek forgiveness, ask for guidance or find the truth. ... However, recognizing the importance of prayer to many people does not mean that the government may enact a statute in support of it, any more than the government may encourage citizens to fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge or practice rune magic.”

“The National Day of Prayer was not endorsing a specific religion.” But that’s not the issue.

“This is impeding upon peoples' freedom of religion and freedom to exercise that right in public.” Not true. As the Fox News article cited by Liberty states: “Crabb said her ruling is based on ‘relevant case law,’ and it does not prevent religious groups from organizing prayer services or prevent the President from discussing his views on prayer.”

Teresa said...

The National Day of Prayer forces no person to participate in prayer nor does it prohibit others from praying. This ruling is in effect not allowing people to gather in public and freely exercise their religion and that violates freedom of religion. The Constitution states freedom of religion and not freedom from religion. The government is not authorizing one type of prayer over another. Prayer can be any type of prayer. The government is not sponsoring one certain religion over another. Our Founding Fathers founded this country as a Christian nation on Godly principles and referred to God in many speeches but doing so by not referring to any one particular religion. That is the same type of thing that having the National Day of prayer is doing.

Prayer has to do with religious freedom and the Judge is violating religious freedom. Prayer is not antithetical or diametrically opposed by our government, only endorsing one religion over another which isn't happening. And, having prayer is not endorsing Catholicism over Protestantism, or Muslim over Baptist beliefs.

Don Emmerich said...

You're more or less repeating your earlier assertions without addressing any of the arguments I made.

Don Emmerich said...

"This ruling is in effect not allowing people to gather in public and freely exercise their religion and that violates freedom of religion."

Where's your evidence for this? I provided evidence that this clearly is not the case? Where's your counter-evidence?

Teresa said...

“the government may not endorse a religious message.”

What type of religious message is any type of prayer endorsing? When has the government not been allowed to pray? Our Congress still has a prayer said before them, and is that violating our Constitution?

"This ruling is in effect not allowing people to gather in public and freely exercise their religion and that violates freedom of religion."

"Where's your evidence for this? I provided evidence that this clearly is not the case? Where's your counter-evidence?"

The one time of year that faithful people, consisting from a variety of different faiths, want to gather together with the President and other officials in a public forum, the judge has claimed this to be unconstitutional. So, Yes, that is violating the freedom to exercise religion. Freedom of religion is a God given unalienable right granted to us by the Constitution that no court nor government can take away from us.

suntzusays said...

To put the actual atheist in the room for this conversation: I don't care one way or the other about this one.

I see this as a non-event. The real problem for atheists isn't that Christians or Muslims or whatever are able to pray and even to have a national day to acknowledge this. The problem is discrimination and day to day annoyance for jobs and/or social behavior (such as marriage/dating with religious people or people with religious families). If nothing else, I should not have to explain that the absence of faith is not a requisite for the absence of morals or the presence of some form of bizarre alternative worship with every other conversation.

I could care less what "you people" are doing on Sundays or Saturdays or once you enter a church or even before a ballgame. I realize we're a minority. I'd just prefer not to be trampled on for no apparent reason.

Don Emmerich said...

The ruling does not prohibit people from gathering together “with the President and other officials in a public forum” to pray. Rather, the ruling declares that the United States Congress does not have the right to pass legislation that endorses prayer, which is what the Congress clearly did when it designated the first Thursday in May to be the National Day of Prayer.

Here’s the wording of 36 U.S.C. § 119 : US Code - Section 119: National Day of Prayer:

“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” (

This law unmistakably requires the president to declare the first Thursday in May the National Day of Prayer, and the judge ruled that Congress does not have this right. That’s all the ruling does. That’s it. Congressmen can still gather together with the president and pray. They simply can’t pass legislation which endorses prayer (or any other "religious message").

Here’s the conclusion of the judge’s ruling:

“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. Wallace, 472 U.S. at 83-84 (O’Connor, J., concurring in the judgment). And religious groups remain free to ‘organize a privately sponsored [prayer event] if they desire the company of likeminded’ citizens. Lee, 505 U.S. at 629 (Souter, J., concurring). The President too remains free to discuss his own views on prayer. Van Orden, 545 U.S. at 723 (Stevens, J., dissenting). The *only* issue decided in this case is that the federal government may not endorse prayer in a statute as it has in § 119” (

Don Emmerich said...

I’m not even saying that the ruling is constitutionally sound. I’d really have to do more research on the topic before making up my mind. Perhaps the judge’s ruling is constitutionally flawed. I have the feeling that it probably is, but at this point I really no right to say one way or the other.

I’m just trying to point out that the ruling doesn’t say what many people claim it does.

And, for the life of me, I just don’t see why we believers should care whether the government endorses a day of prayer. If the courts prohibited people from praying, then I’d have a problem. But I really don’t care if the courts simply prohibit Congress from endorsing prayer. Doesn’t affect me in the slightest.

Liberty said...

Teresa- this ruling in no way, shape, or form prohibits people coming together and praying. Nor does it impede religious expression, even by our elected officials.

It merely states the fact that Congress cannot set up one day as a day of "prayer", regardless of the religious affiliation of said prayer. Can people still pray? Of course. Can they come together and pray? Absolutely. Can the respective members of Congress and the President still pray? Well of course.

What this does is merely ensure that Congress is not showing favoritism, and that they remain neutral.

Teresa said...

What specific religion is being given favoritism by having a National Day of Prayer?

Can a Hindu pray?

Can a Muslim pray?

Can a Catholic pray?

Can a Lutheran pray?

Can a Jew pray?

And, are agnostics or atheists being forced to pray?

This is a recognition of our Judeo-Christian roots, and is forcing no person to pray if they don't want to. And, there is no state sponsoring of a specific religion.

Anonymous said...

Suntzusay, has the National Day of Prayer ever been an emotionally scarring trauma for you?

That is the claim of the plaintiffs and District Judge Crabb agreed to hear this case. She has acted as legislature and executor rather than judge.

Liberty, are you that big a fan of activist judges that because she agrees with your stance on the constitutionality of the law in question you won't defend the constitution which demands seperation of powers?

suntzusays said...

No. And I said as much that this was a meaningless non-event. My concern is the behavior of supposedly religious people and their tolerance of the views and lifestyles of others who do not share their religious views. I do not care what they do with their private religious views, such as prayer. Only their public ones expressed in bigotry matter. This to me was like Christmas. An optional practice that did not require me even to pay attention to its existence if I so chose. In fact I was unaware entirely of the practice until Obama "canceled" it last year. I have only noted in the past occasions where Presidents or generals have issued national requests for days of prayer or mourning (D-Day for example).

I do not consider this "activism". There are some "unfortunate" clauses about establishment of religion that can be interpreted as removing public sanction of a particular religion. The national prayer day, as we might observe from the reactions of Christians here and elsewhere, might be construed by secularists and Christians alike as a representation and establishment of the Christian religion over others. That is a view I do not share. But the converse position that Teresa (and others) has taken, that this somehow is intended to strip religious worship and faith out of America is also a false pretense. This is a meaningless and symbolic event. Both the judge's ruling and the national prayer day itself restrict or impose nothing upon anyone.

suntzusays said...

As for separation of powers, the courts are explicitly set up to be an independent branch. "Activism" is a meaningless term anyway (Conservatives use it quite well on their own issues when it suits them for example), but it does seem rather strange that the courts would not be permitted the powers to review and strike down the actions or laws as created by the other branches of government when they violate some Constitutional premise (in this case, presumably the establishment clause of the 1st amendment).

What function would you have courts perform? How else would we protect the rights of a minority from being infringed upon by a majority with unproductive and harmful sentiments toward that minority if not through the interpretation and execution of the laws within Constitutional limits upon the powers of government(s)?

Anonymous said...

The case was frivolous and should have been treated as such like all others of its kind. By accepting this case as legitimate the judge endorsed a religious group's message, because there is no legitimate complaint. She then uses government endorsement of religion as a means to her own ends she may be a devout Christian with views much in line with Liberty's or something else. It doesn't matter frivolous cases need to be treated as frivolous and not charged to the taxpayers as legitimate.

Suntzusays, your complaint concerning dating seems odd, don't you want a fellow life companion to share your beliefs?

As for work I don't mind being not hired because of my personal beliefs (it has happened), this is freedom both of a potential employer and myself. It should in no way be regulated by my government at my expense.

suntzusays said...

Who said anything about government regulating or creating anti-discrimination laws? The point is that people do it and they shouldn't (it shouldn't even become an issue), not that people should demand government controls over thoughts and respect for others. It cannot be effectively legislated away in the same way that racism or homophobia don't go away from "well-intentioned" laws governing discrimination. But there should be more social or cultural stigma attached to these forms of bigotry or intolerance, pushing it out of the public domain in matters which it is irrelevant (such as work performance for most jobs).

The usual problem is not dating, because generally a "life partner" would be very likely to share at least some of the same worldviews or metaphysical concerns. I actually don't care or want a fellow life companion to share my beliefs. My main concern is that they don't force their own on me. The actual problem is other people's families/social circles are not accepting of this. At all. Polls and many personal experiences of atheists/agnostics are that those are the people who think we are weirdos from another planet and don't want us anywhere near their son/daughter, for example. That can pose problems for what might otherwise be acceptable pairings. Social stigma and status signals are not insignificant in dating; otherwise interracial dating could be far more common than it is.

Teresa said...

How is an atheist/agnostic being tolerant or accepting of persons' who wants to gather and pray in public with others' at a specific event, a once a year event, when they endorse the unconstitutionality of this?

We people who pray are respecting your right to not pray by not forcing you, dragging you kicking and screaming to this event or day of recognizing prayer. And, this is not an endorsement of prayer or a theocratic call to all forcing all to pray either.

Anonymous said...

Of course potential future in-laws and their equivalents (ie childhood friends, siblings, and the like) will view the individual dating as an inter-loper who will receive the greatest portion of their friend/child's attention. It is a very natural response to find fault with such.

It should be much more worrying if they don't find fault with you. It indicates desperation on their part. And it doesn't last. Knowing beforehand what people dislike about you is so much better than afterward.

Liberty said...

Teresa- this ruling does not prevent people from praying. If you want together with a group of friends and pray, more power to you. I do that. But this ruling does not keep you from doing that.

It merely rules that the government cannot say "this is a day for prayer."

You see, government operates in a sort of religious vacuum. That isn't a particularly apt description, but its the best I can come up with. :P Government can neither legislate for, nor legislate against any religion, or (to my mind) religion in general.

What I don't understand is why Christians are defending this so much. Like Don said- we don't need a day to pray to God. Nor do we have to have a specific time/place. God listens all the time. If you want to get together with others and pray, do so. But don't ask our government to legislate it.

Teresa said...

While the ruling does not prevent this "If you want together with a group of friends and pray" it does prevent the one gathering per year suggested by our Congress where all faiths could come together as one. This does infringe on the freedom of religion and the free exercise of religion.

Just because the ruling allows for one thing, doesn't mean it doesn't infringe upon freedom of religion in the second instance which is guaranteed by the Constitution. If this ruling is binding then our Constitution as it relates to freedom of religion means nothing and any religious public gathering in our secular society can be taken away at any whim by our government. But, freedom of religion as instituted by our Founders is an unalienable right and cannot be taken away by our government or any judge, which is exactly what Judge Crabb is doing-going against the Constitution which she is sworn to uphold.

suntzusays said...

I would not think it so much as "desperation" more as "this is not a matter of concern". People are not required to share worldviews or religious beliefs to marry, to become friends, to share opinions, and so on. I have no idea why people should believe that they should share such beliefs as to hold them in common with their closest companions. The main reason I find this to be a workable premise is that I come from a position where my beliefs or opinions are constantly challenged and at best are ignored and tolerated. If you come from a mainstream position, it may indeed be unthinkable that you should become attracted to someone "weird". If you exist outside that mainstream, it's almost impossible to avoid. Aside from avoiding the most Evangelical, the most strident or fundamentalist worldviews, (whose views and beliefs are often quite obvious and visible, unlike my own) I make no attempts to suss out people's beliefs ahead of time or to become intolerant and belligerent of them once they are visible (at least supposing that they do not hold belligerent and intolerant views, the main reason for avoiding fundamentalists). As a result, whether or not a person has a social group which tolerates my outsider-ness will and can come up with great frequency.

As you say, it is useful that the bigotry may be open and expressed, that it may be avoided if desired. I have indeed broken up otherwise promising and workable relationships because parents or friends have expressed racism for example, an issue which does not even factor in generally for most peer bonds, and in other cases because of pressures surrounding religion, ethics, or metaphysical opinions. But simply because something despicable is open and visible should not make it right, tolerable, and socially acceptable. Far too often, bias and animus toward atheists and agnostics is openly expressed and socially accepted. In a county governed with the freedom of conscience and religion, this should be an embarrassment that we make so much of the cultural and social choices of others as to their religious faiths and in particular to the lack thereof. What it results in is a situation where it might be ungovernable to command respect and accommodation from the masses, but it also makes it often appear that it would be the opinion of those masses that we should not be free to live here alongside them, a situation not unlike the racial animosities that have plagued our history and resulted in various forms of separatism. The only difference in the campaign of atheists is that we are "invisible", where a person's race has generally been visible and immediate in its reactions, we are instead compelled by these majorities to engage in dishonest distortions to "fit in" or at best to disappear. I hardly think this is an optimal arrangement.

suntzusays said...

I'm very confused why Christians feel they need the endorsement of government for prayer as well. But as I've said, I don't see what was so blatantly offensive about this to atheists or minority religions either.

Still, the country and its majorities of Christian worshipers seemed to get along quite well without a "national day of prayer" for almost 200 years. Taking that symbol away will not do much of anything for the guarantees of freedom for citizens and residents for the exercise of their conscience, the practices of their chosen faith, and the ability or interest to gather together in the rituals or manner proscribed by those faiths. All it does is take away the public endorsement by the whole of government, something which appears likewise to be required by that inconvenient establishment clause that is the flip side of the freedom of religion. Private individuals who work for that government may continue, as President Obama appears to intend to do, to gather together, to call on the acts and practices of faith toward public purposes, and so on.

What's the big deal either way here? Why does this require 30 or 40 comments to convene around an opinion that nothing of consequence was either threatened or dramatically changed by this ruling either for the establishment of mainstream and dominant views of Christians or the supposed belligerent wing of atheists? No battle was fought here and nobody won or lost anything.

Liberty said...

"...prevent the one gathering per year suggested by our Congress where all faiths could come together as one."

And I would ask you...why would we want the Congress who corrupts practically everything they touch, can't even act right and nice for five minutes to do something sincere mandating or "suggesting" prayer for anyone?

Overall, I think I really agree with Sun Tzu. The National Day of Prayer is futile: it infringes upon the establishment clause, and is really a humongous waste of time and government money.

Anonymous said...

Nice blog, Liberty. Here is your opinion that is upsetting to me: "However, what I do have a problem with is Congress (or any other branch of government) setting aside a certain day for the worship of a certain god"

My pagan friends are upset that Christians think the National Day of Prayer is setting aside a certain day to worship the god of the Christians. Liberty, "[Y]ou foster the idea that Christians view themselves as somehow more righteous/important than everybody else."

Besides, Christians are commanded by Christ to pray in secret, so this law is obviously an ebdorsement of paganism, or something, not Christianity.

(This communication stuff is really hard for me.)

Liberty said...

Tragedy- I'm unsure what you're trying to say...

As I understand it, you're saying you don't agree with my stance that government shouldn't be setting aside a day for the worship of a god, and that your pagan friends don't think the National Day of Prayer is worshipping the God of Christians, and that the NDP isn't really?

If so, that's an interesting way of looking at it, and I hadn't thought of it before.

But my stance still stands. It is not government's job to endorse religion- any religion, or religion in general. Yes, government knows religion exists. Yes, it's OK for elected officials to acknowledge religion in their private lives. Hey, they can pray before every speech if they want to. I don't care.

True freedom of religion, like true freedom of the press, cannot exist if the government is creating mandated prayer/government media outlets. The rest of the religious/press community will be tainted by the government's involvement.

Anonymous said...

Would you agree that there are good laws that are unconstitutional?

This particular law in my opinion is constitutional, but also a bad law. It does not endorse a specific religion, and therefore cannot establish a specific religion. It is well written, but a bad and unnecessary law.

For some reason I didn't think I needed to express my opinion on the law's merits, just the judge's obvious desire to strike it unconstitutional makes me suspect her to be a fundamentalist Christian.

I want to defend our Constitution from this type of ruling being made to remove bad laws. Bad laws must be repealed rather than declared unconstitutional (unless they also are unconstitutional.

suntzusays said...

That's odd. My impression would have been that it's the fundamentalist Christians that were up in arms over repealing the National Prayer Day and are certainly not the ones seeking to overturn it. Perhaps your definition of fundamentalists is a little more strict than my own, but if they're the ones pushing to have it overturned, I'd be very surprised. My understanding was that it was a secularist group that brought the claim into court for example.

Teresa said...

I just posted a blog article which provides a background outlining the roots of The National Day of Prayer:

BTW-There is a little political sarcasm/satire mixed into the post.

Anonymous said...

Suntzusays, what is a fundamentalist Muslim?

Put two fundamentalist Muslims from different sects in a room and watch the ensuing bloodbath, similar with fundamentalist Christians, though sometimes we don't kill each other.

suntzusays said...

Sometimes they don't either. Much of the Iran-Iraq problem during the 80s was ethnic nationalism (anti-Persian) more so than tribalism over religious sects. Indeed, since Iraq has a majority population of Shi'a Muslims (just as Iran does), that strategy would have been useless.

Besides, the difference here is easily shown on a timeline. Islam's schism between the Ottomans and Persians did not assume some pre-eminent importance in Islam and create bloodshed until the decline of both empires, in particular the Ottomans, which was well after Christians were busying themselves warring over Europe in a series of invasions and battles (I would pin the starting decline of Ottoman superiority in the Eastern Med at the second siege of Vienna in the 18th century). All the difference now is concluded by examining the relative youth and power (and especially the lack thereof) of Islamic dominated societies as compared to Christian dominated ones.

suntzusays said...

Since people probably still care about this
1) The DOJ is appealing the decision
2) The Constitutional question in legal precedent is kind of vague on whether this constitutes "establishment". I am myself sort of ambivalent on whether it does or not . Mostly because it is very different from the "under God" or prayer in school requirements, where the establishment case is much more certain and obvious than this, where no actual requirements of individual citizens are imposed, even upon religious citizens of any denomination and faith. So the ban on government endorsement has by now a firm legal precedent, but whether or not this constitutes an actual endorsement is in a big legal grey zone.
3) It is possible that if it reaches SCOTUS there might be enough "votes" to repeal the decision back anyway on a narrow 5-4 ruling at least (Kennedy would seem likely to move with the conservative wing on this one based on his past rulings).
More likely it just won't be upheld by the District Court on appeal.
4) I still don't understand what the fuss from Christians is over this. Is there a comparable fuss from say, American Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims or Jews?

Liberty said...

Sun Tzu- thanks for the update. :) Haven't been following this much, or anything much for that matter. ^.^

I don't think anyone else besides Christians is making a fuss...which probably goes to show the NDP is more of a Christian institution than they'd like to admit. :P