Federal court rejects National Day of Prayer

FEDERAL COURT REJECTS NATIONAL DAY OF PRAYER…. There are already right-wing chain emails circulating about this, so let’s set the record straight.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a congressionally-mandated “holiday” called the “National Day of Prayer.” The group argued that the annual occurrence undermines the separation of church and state. Late yesterday, a federal court in Wisconsin agreed.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote that the government can no more enact laws supporting a day of prayer than it can encourage citizens to fast during Ramadan, attend a synagogue or practice magic.

“In fact, 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,” Crabb wrote.

“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,” she wrote. “In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.”

This hardly seems radical. As “holidays” go, the official National Day of Prayer is difficult to understand. For the faithful, every day is a day of prayer, and they don’t need official encouragement. For a secular government that separates church from state, the idea of a state-sanctioned day in which elected leaders encourage Americans to pray is odd, if not ridiculous.

Indeed, for all the recent talk about “big government,” federal “intrusion,” and getting back to American traditions in line with the Founding Fathers, conservatives should find an official annual prayer day for the nation pretty offensive. It’s an entirely modern creation — the NPD was established in 1952, and set as the first Thursday in May in 1988 — and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison explicitly rejected state-sponsored prayer days.

So, what are conservatives worked up about? First, the small-government crowd is outraged that a federal court would find an official federal prayer day problematic. (Americans need government to tell us when to pray? Only if you listen to the far-right.) Second, according to bizarre emails that you’ll soon receive from your crazy relatives, the story has morphed into President Obama “cancelling” the National Day of Prayer.

For the record, the Obama White House issued a prayer-day proclamation last year, and will apparently do so again this year while the court ruling is being appealed.

That won’t, however, stop the far-right freak-out. Nothing ever does.