FFRF: National Day of Prayer still unconstitutional

This year, like every other, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has continued to receive complaints about local government officials planning and speaking at National Day of Prayer events in their official capacity.

Federal law also requires the President to “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.”

FFRF continues to contend that this law is unconstitutional, as is public officials’ participation in religious events celebrating prayer.

This year, FFRF promoted a National Day of Reason resolution in Congress as an alternative. The resolution, which did not come to a vote, would have also designated May 7 as a day for “all citizens, residents, and visitors to join in observing this day and focusing upon the employment of reason, critical thought, the scientific method, and free inquiry to the resolution of human problems and for the welfare of human kind.” Freethought groups around the country are celebrating anyway with rallies, lectures, and entertainment.

This year’s NDP theme is “Lord, Hear Our Cry.” A prayer composed for this year begins, “We come to You in the Name that is above every name — Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Our hearts cry out to You.”

The NDP is an annual sectarian event, with many events held and proclamations issued around the country. It originated with Rev. Billy Graham during his evangelical crusade in Washington, D.C., in 1952. He expressed an openly Christian purpose, seeking an annual proclamation by the president because Graham wanted “the Lord Jesus Christ” to be recognized across the land.

Subsequently, the National Day of Prayer Task Force was created to “communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, mobilizing the Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership.”

FFRF sued over the National Day of Prayer, and a federal district court in 2010 memorably ruled in our favor that the NDP was unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb held that the statute requiring the president to issue a prayer proclamation “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.”

Crabb noted, “The same law that prohibits the government from declaring a National Day of Prayer also prohibits it from declaring a National Day of Blasphemy.” Choosing to recognize 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.”

FFRF’s case was thrown out at the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled FFRF did not have standing to bring the case.

“We never fought harder to show our standing, our injury, and the work over the years by our office and our members because of this state/church entanglement. Given the composition of the Supreme Court, there wasn’t much point in appealing the standing decision. But it’s is important to note the merits of this issue have not been finally decided,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.


Celebrate a National Day of Reason by listening to this free download of FFRF Co-President Dan Barker’s song, “Get Off Your Knees”!

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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