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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Religions do not need National Day of Prayer

Jamie Snark

Religions do not need National Day of Prayer

Last Thursday, a federal judge in Madison ruled it is unconstitutional for the federal government to endorse a National Day of Prayer. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb brightened the day of First Amendment fans across the country with her ruling that characterized the current National Day of Prayer as a government endorsement of prayer. In her ruling, Crabb wrote, ""The same law that prohibits the government from declaring a National Day of Prayer also prohibits it from declaring a National Day of Blasphemy.""

Crabb's judgment was the right decision for religious Americans and an impartial federal government. Involving the U.S. government, in my belief, runs the risk of dirtying my faith. If I voted purely on faith, I would be supporting fellow Lutheran Mark Neumann in his run for governor.

In reality, this year's National Day of Prayer, slated for May 6, will continue as planned. Crabb delayed enforcement of her ruling until it travels through the appeals courts. But from now on, the National Day of Prayer should continue on a different note.

President Barack Obama, individual members of Congress and ordinary Americans all have the right to recognize the National Day of Prayer, to unite in reflection and prayer for the wellbeing of our nation. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees their right to such belief and expression. But that same amendment guarantees religion the right to not be associated with our government.

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Most faithful folks place their faith and their government on very different playing fields. Why not embrace the importance of spiritual freedom and not perpetuate a belief that it is supported by government like a crutch?

An inclusive and tolerant president like Obama surely doesn't mean to make the day of prayer an endorsement of Christianity. He probably wants all the prayers he can get with the problems that fall on his desk. The holiday can and should be used as a day to celebrate the diversity of beliefs and faiths in this country. But we Americans can take care of that without Uncle Sam penciling it in on the calendar. Religious organizations should seize this ruling as an opportunity to assert their independence. If not, leaning on the government to support the cause of religion could be devastating to religious organizations in the long run.

Unfortunately, the focus of the trial may seem like it is atheist versus faithful. But to protect their own sovereignty, churches and other places of worship must protect the First Amendment, and they should have joined in on the fight for free speech in this case. This is not an affront to prayer or religious Americans, as Crabb was careful to articulate in her ruling.

Perhaps the most-used argument against Crabb's decision is that it violates the American tradition of commemorating a National Day of Prayer. But annual proclamations only began in 1952. An official date, the first Thursday of May, wasn't chosen until 1988. Many founding fathers were intensely opposed to any mixing between church and state.

At first glance, it may seem cozy to live in a country that supports my religion. It's easy for the White House to seem more prevalent in my life than a church, so why not allow the ubiquitous government to acknowledge my faith?

But how would I feel as a member of a different, minority faith? No faith at all? From the religious side, I grew up in a church that pooh-poohed an American flag in the entry hall because, according to my pastor, the church should transcend such arbitrary borders as the state.

This ruling isn't a direct cause of our nation becoming more religiously diverse, including the increasing number of atheists. This is about religious Americans' ability to practice their faith, or lack of faith, free from government control, and the government's responsibility to create an environment of equality for all citizens.

Hopefully Obama and other elected officials who think such prayer is beneficial for our country will still join hands and pray on May 6. But to do this, they do not need official proclamations with the presidential seal. Obama can tweet ""Join together in prayer today for the National Day of Prayer."" He can still have a pastor begin his inauguration ceremonies with a prayer.

These are forms of communicating the president's personal beliefs. In this democracy, we have a right to know what beliefs influence our elected leaders and, if we so choose, join in worship with them. But the minute, yet constitutionally significant distinction of a presidential proclamation is unnecessary to further the well-being of our country.

In public discourse, there is much more room for recognition and discussion of religion, a vital cultural factor in millions of Americans' lives. Hopefully religious organizations and leaders can seize this opportunity to open up a more honest, progressive discussion on faith and our country. And hopefully Pat Robertson doesn't say anything crazy again.

The cold reality of theocracies like Iran should be enough to scare any of us away from legislating religion. I'm certain God couldn't care less if a national celebration is accompanied by an official proclamation or not. Or in other words, ""Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.""

Jamie Stark is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. Please send all feedback to opinion@dailycardinal.com. 

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