Excerpts from Judge Crabb’s historic decision ruling National Day of Prayer unconstitutional

“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. In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience. When the government associates one set of religious beliefs with the state and identifies nonadherents as outsiders, it encroaches upon the individual’s decision about whether and how to worship.”

“The Supreme Court has noted often that the establishment clause is the result of the lesson learned from history that, when the government takes sides on questions of religious belief, a dangerous situation may be created, both for the favored and the disfavored groups.

“To those whose beliefs comport with the message sent by the government, it is difficult to understand why anyone would object to the message.

“However, religious expression by the government that is inspirational and comforting to a believer may seem exclusionary or even threatening to someone who does not share those beliefs. This is not simply a matter of being ‘too sensitive’ or wanting to suppress the religious expression of others. Rather, . . . it is a consequence of the unique danger that religious conduct by the government poses for creating ‘in’ groups and ‘out’ groups.”

“A reasonable observer of the statute or a proclamation designating the National Day of Prayer would conclude that the federal government is encouraging her to pray.”

“One might argue that the National Day of Prayer does not violate the establishment clause because it does not endorse any one religion. Unfortunately, that does not cure the problem. Although adherents of many religions ‘turn to God in prayer,’ not all of them do. Further, the statute seems to contemplate a specifically Christian form of prayer with its reference to ‘churches’ but no other places of worship and the limitation in the 1952 version of the statute that the National Day of Prayer may not be on a Sunday. Even some who believe in the form of prayer contemplated by the statute may object to encouragements to pray in such a public manner. E.g., Matthew 6:5 (‘You, however, when you pray, go into your private room and, after shutting your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; then your Father who looks on in secret will repay you.’)”

“[T]he 1988 amendment does not serve any purpose for the government or the country as a whole, but simply facilitates the religious activities of particular religious groups. Although those groups undoubtedly appreciate that assistance, they are not entitled to it. [T]he Establishment Clause prohibits precisely what occurred here: the government’s lending its support to the communication of a religious organization’s religious message.”

“If the government were interested only in acknowledging the role of religion in America, it could have designated a ‘National Day of Religious Freedom’ rather than promote a particular religious practice.”

“With or without a statute, private citizens are free to pray at any time. Private citizens are also free to join together to hold celebrations of their faith, including by proclaiming their own day of prayer.”

“That is not an accommodation under Supreme Court precedent; it is taking sides on a matter of religious belief. Because supporters of the National Day of Prayer have no need for the machinery of the State to affirm their beliefs, the government’s sponsorship of that day in § 119 is most reasonably understood as an official endorsement of religion and, in this instance, of theistic religion.”

“The same law that prohibits the government from declaring a National Day of Prayer also prohibits it from declaring a National Day of Blasphemy.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation