Cancel National Day of Prayer proclamations, government links

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which won a historic decision on April 15 by a federal judge declaring the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, is asking all governors and mayors throughout the country to “refrain, in your official capacity, from issuing a National Day of Prayer proclamation and from participating in the National Day of Prayer events.”

Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-presidents of the Madison, Wis.-based watchdog group, representing more than 14,500 nonreligious members nationwide, wrote state and city executives:

“Under our secular Constitution, elected officials have neither the moral nor the constitutional authority to exhort constituents to pray, much less to set aside an entire day for prayer every year, and tell them to gather with others ‘to turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.’ ”

“Ironically,” the Foundation wrote officials, “America was founded in part by refugees seeking freedom from precisely this kind of religious tyranny by government. Whether to pray, whether to believe in a god who answers prayer, is an intensely precious and personal decision protected under our First Amendment as a paramount matter of conscience.”

The letter to officials conveys the rationale of the ruling by federal District Judge Barbara Crabb. Her decision struck down the federal National Day of Prayer statute, passed in 1952 at the behest of Rev. Billy Graham, which requires presidents to issue a National Day of Prayer proclamation, and to set aside an entire day a year for prayer.

The law was amended in 1988 at the behest of Christian evangelical lobbies to take place on a fixed date, the first Thursday in May, with the stated intent by sponsors of making it easier for those groups to organize National Day of Prayer events.

Judge Crabb noted that the “sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that services no secular function in this context. In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to the individual conscience.”

The Foundation’s letter, while noting that elected officials may of course attend private events as private individuals, warns against the ubiquitous entanglements such as prayer functions named for governors or mayors and use of city Web sites and staff to promote National Day of Prayer-related events.

The Foundation noted that so-called interfaith National Day of Prayer events also cross the line. The unconstitutional law specifically designates “churches” as sites of prayer celebrations for the National Day of Prayer, demonstrating a Christian bias. “Inclusive” events clearly exclude the 15% of U.S. Americans who are not religious (American Religious Identification Survey 2008).

The message becomes: “Americans pray; if you do not believe in the power of prayer, you are not a true American,” Crabb noted.

The Foundation sent an additional 2-page refutation of a letter to mayors sent by the Christian-right Alliance Defense Fund, which has a $32.7 million annual budget, but which was begging for funds to fight the decision in a near-tearful videotape released after the decision and placed on the Web site of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. The ADF defended the National Day of Prayer Task Force, whose chair, Shirley Dobson, was originally named in the Foundation’s federal lawsuit.

The Foundation noted that the ADF “briefed the court with the same arguments it presented to mayors. These arguments were unpersuasive to the court.”

The Foundation directs mayors and governors to Judge Barbara Crabb’s decision, Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama, No. 08-588 2010 WL 1499451 (W.D. Wis. 2010), which addresses and rejects ADF claims in detail.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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