Religion in Society

Justice Department Appeals National Day of Prayer Ruling

| by AUSCS

The National Day of Prayer is patently unconstitutional and a federal appeals court should rule that way, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
 
The Obama administration today filed a notice of appeal taking the fight over the congressionally mandated religious event to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
 
Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “Congress clearly overstepped its bounds when this law was passed. Americans do not need politicians to tell them when – or whether – to pray. That’s not their job.
 
“Our Constitution flatly bars Congress from making any law ‘respecting an establishment of religion,’” continued Lynn, an ordained minister and a long-time civil liberties attorney. “Mandating a national prayer day does exactly that, and I am optimistic that the appeals court will rule that way.”
 
Legal observers say the U.S. Department of Justice was probably obligated to take the dispute to the appeals court. When federal statutes are challenged in court, justice department lawyers are generally required to defend them.
 
On April 15, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin ruled that the federal law mandating a National Day of Prayer violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
 
Crabb held that the sole purpose of the federal law “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.”
 
The National Day of Prayer was created by Congress in 1952. Under pressure from the Religious Right, Congress codified the event as the first Thursday of each May.
 
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.