Prayer has always been a component of American history. You need not be a person of faith to know that prayer has influenced our history and that Presidents have honored and called for prayer during times of national crisis. It is ingrained into our national traditions. It is in that spirit that the National Day of Prayer was created by a joint resolution of Congress and signed by President Truman in 1952 to annually recognize prayer’s importance.
Since then, there have been 57 Presidential Proclamations for a Day of Prayer. Last year, all 50 state governors including Governor Schwarzenegger signed similar proclamations encouraging citizens to pray. The Day of Prayer serves to remind all Americans, of all backgrounds, to reflect on the blessings and challenges that have shaped our nation. It is a wholesome call to pray for the well-being of our communities, country, and those serving in our Armed Forces.
Unfortunately, for a small and vocal minority largely comprised of atheists and agnostics, the safe guards in the First Amendment are not enough. A group called the Freedom From Religion Foundation believes that the National Day of Prayer leaves them out and causes them psychological harm. They have gone so far as to sue to have the day declared unconstitutional and they found a sympathetic liberal judge in Wisconsin to agree with them. This federal judge ruled that the National Day of Prayer amounts to a call for religious action, so must be stopped. Immediately, members of Congress lead an outcry on the verdict. The White House said the President will issue a National Day of Prayer proclamation this year regardless of the ruling and the Justice Department will challenge the decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals.
No one is forced to pray, which is how it should be in a free country like ours. Since the day is purely voluntary, anyone can ignore it if they wish. It certainly does not establish a governmental religion. Public employees are traditionally given religious days off, such as Christmas, but it does not mean they must celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In the United States, freedom of religion is a First Amendment constitutionally guaranteed right. It is also quite clear that a government-sponsored religion is not allowed.
It’s unfortunate that some people find prayer offensive; even worse that they have trouble understanding the Constitution. I am confident the Wisconsin ruling will eventually be overruled, but we must continue to speak out against efforts that seek to eliminate any trace of religion in the public arena. On the National Day of Prayer, it is my prayer that our nation will continue to be a land of opportunity and freedom for all Americans, where everyone can exercise their God-given rights to express themselves without fear from an overbearing government.