Family Research Council Needs a Little Perspective on the National Day of Prayer Ruling

The religious right has lost all sense of perspective regarding the recent court ruling on the National Day of Prayer.  Take this April 16 press release from the ultra-conservative Family Research Council:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today Family Research Council President Tony Perkins released the following statement regarding a ruling by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb declaring that the annual National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional.

“Had Judge Crabb consulted the Constitution she was sworn to uphold, she might notice that Americans enjoy religious freedom – not by virtue of the courts, but in spite of them.  Contrary to her opinion, this ruling does not promote freedom, it crushes it.  Americans pray voluntarily.  And exercising that right together, as a willing nation, is exactly what the Founding Fathers intended.  To imply otherwise, is to suggest that the Constitution is unconstitutional.  Religion cannot be banned in America because it was never imposed – not by the Founding Fathers, and certainly not by the National Day of Prayer. 

“While this is one of many instances in which the courts have tried to banish God from the public square, this case reveals a level of supreme arrogance.  Ultimately, Judge Crabb is inferring that she found something in the Constitution that every President and Congress since 1775 has not: a hostile treatment of religion in public life. 

“We call on Congress to start the impeachment proceedings for Barbara Crabb, as she violated her sacred oath of ‘administering justice … under the Constitution and laws of the United States.’  What she has done to repress, we will use to revive.  When the great men and women of our past bent their knees to God on behalf of the ‘sacred fire of liberty,’ it was often during the nation’s darkest days.  My friends, it is time we join them.” 

This kind of stuff is getting ridiculous.  What has actually been declared unconstitutional?  Reading this and other releases by religious right groups you would think it was prayer itself.  What has been declared unconstitutional is the statute 36 U.S.C. Section 119 which states:

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 full text of the court’s decision can be found here.  This is hardly the writing of some activist federal judge that hates religion.  Take this paragraph from page 4 of the ruling:

It bears emphasizing that a conclusion that the establishment clause prohibits the government from endorsing a religious exercise is not a judgment on the value of prayer or the millions of Americans who believe in its power. 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.  “And perhaps it is not too much to say that since the beginning of th[e] history [of humans] many people have devoutly believed that ‘More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.’” Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 433 (1962). 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. 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.

  And this paragraph from page 64 of the 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). only issue decided in this case is that the federal government may not endorse prayer in a statute as it has in § 119.

This is all just another example of the Persecution Complex run amok.



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