On April, 15, 2010 Judge Barbara Crabb ruled a United States Day of Prayer unconstitutional. The ruling comes after the lawsuit was filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group comprised of agnostics and atheists who set out to challenge the law and for the time being have made their case - and won. Judge Crabb stated: "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." Crabb said it violated the First Amendment's establishment clause*, which prohibits the government of creating a "law respecting an establishment of religion."
And Judge Crabb is absolutely correct.
The National Day of Prayer was the brain child of theists in our government who felt it necessary to proclaim that supernatural forces were at work in our nation. Truman signed the law established by Congress in 1952 - which made it mandatory that our government set aside at least one day in a year to acknowledge worship and reverence to a deity. The law forces a declaration from the President of our nation. In 1988, President Reagan set that date permanently as the first Thursday in May. Since that time, through ceremonies or proclamations, presidents have upheld the law.
The ruling by Crabb will of course be challenged. House Republican leader John Boehner has already urged for an appeal by the current administration stating: "It violates both well-established legal precedent and the spirit of the principles on which our nation was founded."
I'm not sure how versed Boehner is on the history of our nation or the Constitution, but might I suggest that he do a little research prior to making such broad brushed statements in the future. Six decades of legal precedents is a poor argument, especially when attached to the spirit of principles our nation embraced when founded.
Our Constitution has always been fluid. It has always allowed for interpretation and movement in order to adjust to the evolution of man and his nation. Our founding fathers had the foresight to frame a government that could flex in the wind and still stand as the hurricanes of change swept through generations. Our Constitution allows "We the people..." to represent the people.
Although, one could argue our founding fathers never could have imagined just who might be considered worthy of the recognition as "person" when they first put their Hancocks on some of those original drafts and documents. We know from a reading of personal journals and writings that not all races and genders were worthy of that sort of status, let alone tribes of men.
Because Boehner brought it up, let's take a quick look at some of the principles on which our nation was founded: slavery, persecution, greed, theft, sexism, rebellion, heresy. To name a few. We did a lot of this in name of a "god". Of course, the image of said god was also fluid. As the theist (or deist) will do, god fits into a predetermined set of mores and values.
Mores and values have changed in the two centuries plus that the United States has been around. And, as happens with a fluid Constitution created for interpretation, laws have reflected the changes in these cultural shifts. Women are free to vote. Slaves are free to be. Even marriage is evolving to include everybody.
Men and women like Boehner call Crabb's ruling "troubling", but I wonder if they have stopped to reflect on the many times activism has led our nation on progress and unity. Prayer to a supernatural being is not the foundation of this country. Liberty is. Freedom to flee from force. Freedom to fight against tyranny. Freedom to find ourselves and our way in a new land and new place. Sometimes, it took us years to own up to the stark hypocrisy of our founding fathers. And in many ways, we are still playing catch up. Crabb's ruling takes us closer to the spirit of principles our nation was truly founded on.
And contrary to the myth, that wasn't theism or worship of a deity.
Jordan Sekulow, with the American Center for Law & Justice says the decision is "flawed", stating that the NDOP law is "just signifying and looking back on our history, respecting our history of the founding of the Judeo-Christian country."
Certainly we can trace the ideologies of some of our founding fathers and come to different understandings of their beliefs.* No nation's infrastructure is without the influence of some very subjective experiences. However, what our Constitution gave the nation was the most objective system by which to appreciate the intent of the actual mandates that might be imposed upon citizens. It considers the evidence and circumstance and weighs it against historical relevance and future precedent. Our government was built with checks and balances to ensure that we could rebel against our own mandates if need be, and still find civility.
Sekulow is wrong. Any suggestion that the United States is a theocracy ignores the evidence of not only our Constitution's deliberate omission of said gods, but also subsequent treaties.* Theist nations build their gods into the framework of their government. The United States did the opposite.
Thomas Jefferson once said that "Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and right can never be safer than in their hands, where the Constitution has deposited it. ...civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States and no authority to direct the religious exercise of his constituents."
Lincoln was in favor of our nation joining in prayer. On March 30, 1863, his proclamation claimed that the people of the United States: "devoutly [recognized] the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations." It went on to urge all citizens of the nation to humble themselves to a deity and pray, in order that the nation would not forget the divine being that allowed for the wealth, growth and prosperity of the the land.*
And, yes, while the Constitution is "Godless"*, it does allow for citizens to opt into worship. As ridiculous as the atheist deems that to be. It allows for protest and speech. It allows for Tea Party Rallies. It allows for civil wars and militia mindsets and evangelism in the streets. It allows a president to proclaim they pray to a god while not infringing on the right of another to call that kind of supernatural behavior silly.
Crabb wrote in the ruling that it is "because the nature of prayer is so personal and can have such a powerful effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual's decision whether and when to pray," siding with Jefferson and challenging Lincoln's proclamation and Truman's signature in addition the policies that some in our government continue to bring forth. Crabb acknowledged the theist's right to assemble and worship and pray to whatever god they so choose, while stripping the mandate that forces the non theist to be a party to it.
So Crabb is correct to rule this law as unconstitutional. Because it violates the premise that the government is not allowed to establish that worship is mandatory. It violates the liberty of the theist and non theist alike. It forces a citizen to participate in something the Constitution states clearly no citizen will ever have to do if they don't want to. It violates the number one principle our nation was actually founded upon: liberty.
Those who suggest the long standing legal precedent ought to be enough to keep this law into effect need to go back and read their history books. Our Constitution is fluid. Our foundation is built on the premise that judges like Crabb are more than capable to interpret the law and find a flaw and rectify one regardless of how many in the masses believe that more is good. Regardless of the barbaric beliefs of some of the men who signed multiple treaties. Regardless of the wisdom of the world centuries ago. Regardless of the theist or non theist. Justice owns her sword, balances weights and is blindfolded for this reason.*
A United States Day of Prayer is unconstitutional. That the law was finally challenged and ruled accordingly is progress for our nation and all citizens in this society. The First Amendment doesn't allow for our government to establish this sort of activity. But most importantly, in the midst of the controversy, the beauty of the decision is that this same amendment allows you to express your displeasure with Crabb's ruling.
*(Additional citations and sources) --- "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." The First Amendment to the United States Constitution
--- Artists depict Justice as a goddess equipped with three symbols of the rule of law: a sword symbolizing the court's coercive power; scales representing the weighing of competing claims; and a blindfold indicating impartiality.
---"I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion." Abraham Lincoln
--- Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. (Annals of Congress, 5th Congress. Treaty with Tripoli)
--- "And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. . . . But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away [with] all this artificial scaffolding." (Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, 11 April 1823, as quoted by E. S. Gaustad, "Religion," in Merrill D. Peterson, ed., Thomas Jefferson: A Reference Biography, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1986, p. 287.)
--- The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness by Isaac Kramnick/ R. Laurence Moore
--- "The Mayflower Compact, America's "first written Constitution," was written in 1620, over 165 years before the U.S. Constitution, and has no legal tie to our current government at all; if it implies that we must be Christians to be good Americans, then we must also be loyal servants of the royal family of England, since that is also emphasized in the Mayflower Compact. The Declaration of Independence was issued 11 years before the Constitution, is not a governing charter, and includes no reference at all to Christianity. The religious references in the Declaration are unmistakably deistic: it's clear that the references are not to the revealed God of Christianity. George Washington's talks and writings are also full of religious references but always to "Providence" or to "the Creator" and almost never—reportedly not even once in all the many public pronouncements or even private correspondence—did Washington invoke the name of Jesus Christ. One counter to the Christians' misuse of various deistic praise of "Nature's" God is to argue that if Paine and Jefferson and Washington had only lived after Charles Darwin had explained his theories regarding evolution, they would have quickly abandoned even a deistic god. We'll never know, but they most assuredly abandoned the orthodox Christian idea of God....Jefferson both denounced clergymen and praised the morality of atheists and atheism. And Washington went to church with Martha but consistently refused to partake in Communion, the central ritual for Episcopalians." (Ed Buckner, Ph.D., It’s a free country, not a Christian nation)