Reagan’s Prayer Ritual Finally Ruled Unconstitutional
On Thursday, April 15, 2010, SR U.S. District Court Judge Barbara B. Crabb ruled that the National Day of Prayer Proclamation, instituted by Ronald Reagan in 1988, is unconstitutional. Freedom From Religion Foundation v George W. Bush was filed in Wisconsin in 2008 and has been progressing through the courts since that time. The subsequent ruling in the case was filed as Freedom From Religion Foundation v Barrack Obama & Robert Gibbs to reflect the change in administration after the 2008 elections. Judge Crabb explained her decision by stating that “…[the National Day of Prayer’s] goes beyond mere ‘acknowledgement’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context.” She continued, “In fact, it is because the nature of prayer is so personal and can have such a powerful effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual’s decision whether and when to pray.”
Although prayer is common among various religious sects, it is not practiced by all and is viewed as offensive by other belief systems and world views. Ronald Reagan’s 1988 Proclamation, #5767, was specific in its religious bias, including a quote from the book of Leviticus in the Christian Bible http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1988/020388d.htm . Reagan’s proclamation includes the phrase, “I call upon the citizens of our great Nation to gather together on that day in homes and places of worship to pray, each after his or her own manner, for unity in the hearts of all mankind.” Many feel that the words ‘after his or her own manner’ prove a universal inclusiveness. Within the context of this very Christian and very monotheistic proclamation, this qualification clearly refers to differing Christian denominations and perhaps other Abrahamic or messianic religions. This deliberately narrow focus within a pluralistic society reflects the exclusivity of the governments endorsement of a religious ritual to the exclusion of all other religions, belief systems and world views. Therefore, under the First Amendment, as ruled by Judge Crabb, the National Day of Prayer contravenes the Constitution.
The First Amendment states that Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The establishment of not only a theistic or monotheistic day of prayer, but of a specifically Christian National Day of Prayer is a flagrant violation. The constitutional guarantees to all Americans are subverted when privilege is claimed by, or extended to, an exclusive group. Neither the joint resolution by congress in 1952 nor the subsequent 1988 proclamation by Ronald Reagan were constitutionally sound in either their intent or application. Judge Crabb’s decision effectively corrected a fifty eight year old error.
While greeted with overwhelming support from members of other religious and nonreligious communities, this judgement against state sponsored religious rituals has created a firestorm of condemnation from the Christian community who view this judgement as a direct attack on their religion and their personal freedom of religious expression. Immediately following the announcement of the decision, internet blogs and forums began registering the discontent of disgruntled Christians, convinced that they are being deliberately persecuted by what they characterize as an evil and Un-American government.
Fox News picked up the gauntlet of piety and immediately had Judge Crabb declared unequivocally wrong. Their purported expert in constitutional law, Kelly Saindon, offered poorly constructed arguments that attempt to redefine the National Day of Prayer as a day “that allows for people to say, that if you have religious beliefs, today is the day, go ahead and recognize those”. Ms. Saindon’s apparent argument for government rationing of religion seems to propose that if the government doesn’t proclaim an official day for the exercise of this particular ritual, it is tantamount to refusing individuals their right to perform this ritual on their own or with others who share their belief.
Not only does this reaction reflect a misunderstanding of the Constitution, but it also demonstrates the continued willingness to reject and subvert principles of equality. This ruling does nothing to limit or curtail any religious freedoms whatsoever. The ruling simply states that there is to be no government sponsorship or endorsement of this particular religious ritual. The Judges ruling does not ban prayer. The judges ruling does not say that Christians are not allowed to pray on that day, or any other. The Judges ruling does not say that every Christians in America cannot agree to pray in concert on that day. The ruling simply removes the unconstitutionally preferred status of one religion over others by official government proclamation in order to protect the equal freedoms and liberties of all.
Judge Crabb’s ruling respects all religions, belief systems and world views by ending State sponsorship of a Christian ritual. The only message to be inferred by Christians is that they have all the same rights and privileges of all other religions and belief systems and are fortunate enough to live in a country where that principle is upheld in the courts. Judge Crabb included in her decision “..that the government can no more enact laws supporting a day of prayer than it can encourage citizens to fast during Ramadan, attend a synagogue or practice magic.” Christians have not had their rights limited, violated, curtailed, impeached or denied.
Crabb stipulated that her decision should not yet be considered a ban to any ‘prayer days’ until the appeals process has been fully exhausted. According to Charles Miller, spokesperson for the U.S. Justice Department, attorneys who represented the federal government in this case were reviewing the ruling Thursday afternoon. Mr. Miller declined further comment.
White House spokesperson Matt Lehrich stated in an e-mail to The Associated Press that President Obama still plans to issue a proclamation for the next prayer day. “As he did last year, President Obama intends to recognize a National Day of Prayer,” Lehrich said. So, despite the judges ruling, Christians can take comfort in the knowledge that due process of the law will be fully applied and honored in order to maintain the integrity of the system, the veracity of the final ruling, and the adherence to the constitution.
The freedoms enshrined in the constitution have once again been affirmed in the face of a challenge. Christians should celebrate this as a victory along with the rest of the country. In this case, it was Christian privilege that was corrected in order to assure the ongoing freedom and equality of all, but it is the principle that an imbalance favoring any exclusive group will not be tolerated that should provide them with security, solace, and a real reason to rejoice.