Archive for April, 2010

Do We Need a National Day of Prayer?

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

The following cut-and-paste status has gone viral and has been unquestioningly replicated across Facebook:

President Obama has decided that there will no longer be a “National Day of Prayer” held in May. He doesn’t want to offend anybody. Where was his concern about offending Christians last January when he allowed the Muslims to hold a day of prayer on the capitol grounds. As a Christian American “I am offended.” If you agree copy and paste no matter what religion you are, this country was built on Freedom

It appears to be a summarized from an e-mail that has circulated since the last National Day of Prayer.

Let us break this down, claim by claim:

President Obama has decided that there will no longer be a “National Day of Prayer” held in May.

No source is cited for this claim, because none exists. It is a lie. Last year, Obama chose not to have the White House National Day of Prayer service, but he did still sign a proclamation recognizing the day and was described as observing the day privately. As of my writing this, he and his staff have made no other statement or proclamation indicating that he will cancel the day.

What is true this week is that a Federal court in Wisconsin — part of the Judiciary branch of government, not the Executive branch, if you recall your grade school education — has ruled that the National Day of Prayer violates the separation of church and state clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights First Amendment. The ruling is subject to further appeal, so this year’s National Day of Prayer can happen as scheduled until a higher court rules. In the event that this case reaches the Supreme Court, because of the separation of powers within our government, the President has no authority over the Judiciary to force either a cancellation or continuation of the National Day of Prayer.

He doesn’t want to offend anybody.

So, you’re offended by people who don’t want to offend people? Isn’t the desire not to offend what we also call politeness? Isn’t it a good thing to be polite? Don’t you raise your kids to be polite? Isn’t the opposite of being polite rude? Your answers to those questions might be thought-provoking, but given that the first sentence was false, they don’t matter to this issue. However, you may want to spend some time meditating on them and considering whether your religion has really provided you with a considerate, polite, and tolerant moral compass. (In case you didn’t get it, I’m inferring the opposite, but by your own measure you ought to admire my willingness to offend, right?)

As for whether or not Obama would avoid involvement in a national day of prayer or, for that matter, any reference to prayer or religion, maybe you should look at these items direct from President Obama on the White House Web site:

Where was his concern about offending Christians last January when he allowed the Muslims to hold a day of prayer on the capitol grounds.

The Muslims who prayed in Washington DC in 2009 did not require a license, permit, or any legal approval by the President or anyone within the Executive branch of our Federal government. They required a permit from the city of Washington in the District of Columbia (specifically, the U.S. Capitol Police.) The President neither allowed nor forbade them praying — he simply was not involved at all because their right to assembly and to prayer was not subject to his authority. Moreover, any Christians or Jews or pagans or anyone else who wanted to arrange a similar gathering would have been within their rights. Even atheists would be within their rights to assemble in our nation’s capitol to protest the National Day of Prayer or to observe a self-declared “day of pondering science.” It is, as noted in this viral status, a free country.

Moreover, I feel compelled to ask: Were you offended by allowing Muslims to pray in public? Really? Why would you be offended by Muslims being allowed to pray in public? Would you instead prefer to ban them from praying in public? Is that Christian love, tolerance, and respect? Is that according them the same treatment you would expect for your own beliefs and practices? Oughtn’t you to do unto others as you would have done unto you — and to allow others to do that which you would hope to be allowed to do?

If you want the facts about the “Islam on Capitol Hill” event, then check them.

As a Christian American “I am offended.”

As an Agnostic American, I too am offended — that you would want or accept your government establishing a day when it believes everyone should pray. Regardless of how ecumenical it is (or thinks it is) in acknowledging the rights of all religious people to pray, it is not the government’s job to be telling people when to pray. Nor is doing so inclusive of those Americans who have an equal right under the law to be free from any establishment of any kind of religion, no matter how well intended or “open-minded” it might try to be. Thankfully, the law has stopped short of compelling everyone to pray, but it is pretty close to the border of establishing religion and prayer as the officially sanctioned government preference — and that is a border the government should not be straddling.

If you agree copy and paste no matter what religion you are, this country was built on Freedom.

I love that this last sentence is a run-on sentence. It speaks volumes to the intelligence of whoever originally wrote it. However, I have more intelligent thoughts on the meaning and intent. I agree that no matter what religion you are, this country was built on freedom. One of those freedoms is from any establishment of religion by your government. So your government ought not to be sticking its proclamations into your choice of when, where, how, who, what, why, or even whether to worship. Therefore, the most appropriate response to any government “cancelling” a National Day of Prayer should be relief and gratitude, not anger. Especially if, on other matters, your Republican Conservativism compels you to object to “Big Government” and the “Nanny State.”

And that brings me back to the Federal Court decision from earlier today. Shouldn’t the Conservative response to this court decision be, like their response to the healthcare bill, that we do not need socialized religion? How can you object to “big government” involvement in fostering affordable healthcare for all Americans, yet you welcome having the government tell you — and everyone else — what day to pray? Or even to pray at all!

Think about it: This ruling in no way restricts your religious freedom. You can still pray on May 6 — or any other day you choose. You just won’t have the government telling you to do so. And isn’t that the definition of freedom?

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