“The Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a claim last week that President Bush in conjunction with the Evangelical based Focus on the Family group who runs the National Day of Prayer Task Force is breaking the nation’s First Amendment.” The Examiner
The article’s author, Laura Jean Kerr, wrote that ;
“Another area of contention is that anyone who wished to volunteer for any of those events were made to sign an Evangelical statement of belief that stopped many mainstream Christians form participating in the events.”
Since Kerr “just happens to be a Pagan” (according to her bio) I thought that perhaps this line might be an exaggeration. So I went to the horse’s mouth , so to speak, to see what it had to say:
The National Day of Prayer Task Force’s mission is to communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, mobilizing the Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership in the seven centers of power: Government, Military, Media, Business, Education, Church and Family.
Kerr’s claim seems to be in step with their mission statement, although they were generous enough to throw non-Christians a spiritual bone;
People with other theological and philosophical views are, of course, free to organize and participate in activities that are consistent with their own beliefs.
Pretty gracious of them, letting others know that they are allowed to worship in their own way that day. Classic CYA (Christians You Aren’t). It may be perfectly acceptable for Christians (or Jews or Muslims or Buddhists or Pagans etc) to organize a national day of prayer or fasting or bingo. But it is not within the purview of our government to endorse or assist in any such endeavor.
According to the Supreme Court decision in Emerson v. Board of Education in 1947:
Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organization or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect “a wall of separation between church and state.”
Many Christians would take exception to this court decision as well as the pending law suit. But is this just another case of religious people looking through the spectacles of the majority? There is good reason to believe that government participation with things pertaining to faith does little to help the cause of either religion or government. In 1821, in a letter to F.L. Schaeffer, James Madison said;
The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity
He was however not entirely opposed to the essence of a National Day of Prayer. In another letter,this time to Edward Livingston, Madison says:
Whilst I was honored with the executive trust, I found it necessary on more than one occasion to follow the example of predecessors. But I was always careful to make the Proclamations absolutely indiscriminate, and merely recommendatory; or rather mere DESIGNATIONS of a day on which all who thought proper might UNITE in consecrating it to religious purposes, according to their own faith and forms.
Remember that when Madison wrote this the country was nearly uniformly Christian, with most inter-religious tension lying between Protestants and the arriving Catholic immigrants. It would seem that today’s particularly “Christian” day of prayer might not fit within Mr. Madison’s guidelines and that the the Freedom from Religion Foundation has a good case.
But outside of that, does the National Day of Prayer come close to accomplishing it’s goals, or is it more successful at generating negative publicity for the faith? Of course, with the tremendous number of ‘national’ days that have little relevance to most people (National Bring Your Teddy Bear to Work Day, Reptile Awareness Day, Inspire Your Heart with Art Day, Mother Goose Day and the National Day of Reason) this lawsuit may end up backfiring on the FFRP.