The National Day of Prayer

The National Day of Prayer has been around since President Harry S. Truman signed the fist proclamation in 1952. Formalized over the years, the annual observance falls on the first Thursday of May. This year’s prayer-gasm is scheduled for May 6, but it seems it has hit a First Amendment speed bump to the Promised Land.

U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb ruled April 15 that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional. She declared that the federal government cannot enact a law pushing prayer no more than it could insist attendance at synagogue or fast during Ramadan.

The ruling is stayed until appeals are completed, which leaves the door open for President Obama to move forward with Prayer-la-palooza 2010.

So, what is the deal with the National Day of Prayer at the Pentagon? Is it a secular event with prayer? Is it a religious event held in DoD public spaces at taxpayer expense? Why has the use of public time, facilities and money in support of prayer been blessed year after year? (Dare we toss some holy water on the many defense prayer breakfasts and “Have a blessed day” phone greetings on defense phones?)

It seems DoD has had one of the more … stringent… fair … oppressive (depends on one’s perspective) policies regarding prayer. It tries to adhere to the Constitution regarding laws “respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” DoD policy reportedly works toward a careful balance in accommodating religious practices while not endorsing any one organization or showing religious favoritism. Policies vary among the services. Be they God Squad or God-Less, few seem happy with DoD’s efforts. Pick your poison.

The National Day of Prayer ruling says the federal government cannot enact a law peddling prayer. One would think that would extend DoD nonsectarian practices and otherwise. Invocations before meetings? A room full of bowed heads of which probably more than a few feel the God Squad pressure to conform? C’mon.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation, advocated which brought the National Day of Prayer suit is an organization mostly of atheists and agnostics, but this issue must have a few card-carrying Christians.

Some cavort with trees. Others strip for Jesus. While not a church-state issue, why doesn’t DoD get out of the group prayer business altogether and stick with denominational ministries removed from the secular routine?

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