For those who might not have felt the overwhelming wave of sacredness washing over the country today, May 6th marks the National Day of Prayer. Aside from the day itself, the event has been burning up the news in certain quarters, as a Federal Judge in Wisconsin ruled that the National Day of Prayer is in fact unconstitutional. On its face, it seems like a now-brainer, given that the Supreme Court itself established the “Lemon Test” for determining when public displays of religion are allowed. Basically:
- The government’s action must have a secular legislative purpose;
- The government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
- The government’s action must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion.
So, let’s see. 1, check. There is no secular purpose in a National Day of Prayer. 2, check. Prayer by definition advances religion. 3, check. By the government officially advocating, and indeed actively instructing, its citizens to engage in prayer, we have an entanglement with religion.
The case is, naturally, on appeal.
Here’s the actual law:
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.
But a look at the National Day of Prayer website has been quite informative. While there are some who tout the National Day of Prayer as completely ecumenical, it is about as far from neutral on the question of just which God is being prayed to as is possible (the fact that Strom Thurman wrote the bill might be another clue). Here’s the money quote:
The National Day of Prayer Task Force’s mission is to communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, mobilizing the Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership in the seven centers of power: Government, Military, Media, Business, Education, Church and Family.
Everywhere, this event is celebrated as a chance for evangelical Christians to get their message out. I’m pretty sure that there has never been a Wiccan or Asatruar giving a benediction at the White House. The law makes reference to “God” explicitly in the singular, and thus cuts out all polytheists (including, naturally, pagans and heathens). In fact, it even mentions churches specifically.
Let us indeed pray to our many, wondrous, and various Gods that this National Day of Prayer, as it is currently constituted, is the last.