Congress has proclaimed that the first Thursday in May – May 1, this year – be set aside as a National Day of Prayer. There will be prayer breakfasts and similar events conspicuously attended by elected officials, politicians and sectarian persona.
But, should Congress and state officials be promoting prayer at all? According to the Constitution, no! ...
Importantly, there is not one mention of God, Jesus, Christ, Christianity or prayer in the religion clauses. There are only two references to “religion” in the Constitution – one in the First Amendment and another in Article VI banning any religious test for public office.
Indeed, the “Christian Nation” concept first came into existence during the Civil War – largely conceived and perpetuated by Northern ministers who, when the war was going badly, announced that the Union Army’s defeats were God’s punishment for ignoring God in the Constitution. But, when the tide of war shifted, these same ministers then proclaimed that God was rewarding the spiritually upright side of the conflict. Thus, America being founded as a “Christian Nation” is fiction. Worse than that, it is exactly contrary to what the framers were trying to negate in the First Amendment.
So, besides violating the principle of separation of church and state, what’s wrong with a national (or state) day of prayer? First, Americans don’t need a congressional proclamation to tell them to pray; they already have a personal, constitutional right to pray – or not to pray – as they (not the government) see fit.
Second, government is not permitted to be in the business of telling people whether to pray, when to pray or who to pray to.
Third, the National Day of Prayer has become a vehicle for spreading religious misinformation and fundamentalist Christian doctrine under the aegis of the government – again precisely what the framers were seeking to prohibit.
Feel free to pray or not pray today – not in response to a congressional proclamation but because you have a constitutional right to do either. But, if you choose to pray, you may want to ask that our elected officials begin to honor the letter and spirit of the First Amendment and respect the separation of church and state.
After all, each previously swore an oath to do just that.
Today is also the National Day of Reason (even here in Nebraska), May Day, and International Workers' Day, but you can spend the day praying if you want. That's the whole point of freedom of religion. As Justice Nelson says, you don't need a government to tell you whether to pray, when to pray, or who to pray to. Do you?
Politicians, of course, tend to be cowards. It's the rare politician who'll stand up against something like this - well, the rare successful politician, at least. But in a democracy, we get the kind of leaders we deserve.