Federal Judge Overturns National Day of Prayer Law


A federal judge has ruled that the statute allowing for a National Day of Prayer is fundamentally unconstitutional, since it violates a ban on government-supported religion.

The decision comes in response to a lawsuit brought against the Obama administration by the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, a secular group which aims to educate the public on matters relating to non-theism, and to protect and promote Americans’ constitutional right to separation between church and state.

Although Judge Barbara B. Crabb struck down the law, which dates back to 1952, the injunction against it will not take effect until the defendants—President Obama and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs—have exhausted their appeals. Conservative religious groups are urging President Obama to appeal the ruling, but neither the White House nor the Justice Department would comment on whether or not the administration would do so.

According to Douglas Laycock, a University of Michigan Law School professor who specializes in issues of religious liberties, the ruling probably would not stand on appeal.

The original statute establishing the National Day of Prayer asked the president to designate one day, other than a Sunday, each year, “on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups and as individuals.”

In 1988, an amendment was added to set aside the first Thursday in May each year as the National Day of Prayer.

President Obama has said, via his Twitter account, that he intends to celebrate the National Day of Prayer, which this year falls on May 6. He did not attend the White House celebrations last year, but did issue an official proclamation about the day.

“Throughout our nation’s history,” the proclamation read, “Americans have come together in moments of great challenge and uncertainty to humble themselves in prayer.”

Interfaith groups and groups supporting the separation of state and church have applauded the ruling. In it, Crabb wrote that the National Day of Prayer’s “sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function. In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.”


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