On April 15, 2010, United States District Court Judge Barbara Crabb, for the Western District of Wisconsin, struck down the National Day of Prayer statute, 36 U.S.C. § 119. This opinion usurped hundreds of years of American history and tradition and must be overturned. It was on November 26, 1789, that George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving Day prayer proclamation, calling this nation to a day of prayer and giving thanks. But if this decision is not overturned, future prayer proclamations like our first president’s will be jeopardized. Be assured, though, that the Alliance Defense Fund is prepared to devote its resources and manpower to protecting our American heritage and religious freedom.
In striking down the statute, the court ruled it serves no secular purpose, but rather calls the nation to engage in a religious exercise – prayer. The court also ruled that the NDP statute violated the endorsement test because a reasonable observer, upon reviewing the statute, would conclude that the government endorses religion. And according to this court, even the endorsement of religion generally is a violation of the establishment clause. The court concluded, “[b]ecause the National Day of Prayer does not have a secular purpose or effect, it cannot survive scrutiny under Lemon and the endorsement test.”
We at the Alliance Defense Fund believe this court’s decision will be overturned as the Supreme Court has already upheld the very similar practice of legislative prayer. In Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983), the Supreme Court upheld the practice of opening a legislative session with prayer because it dates back to the founding fathers.
But the Wisconsin federal judge ruled that Marsh is a limited opinion that should not be applied in this case. The court stated that while the NDP statute encourages national prayer, the legislative prayers in Marsh were just examples of ceremonial deism. In addition, the court said that just because prayer proclamations have been going on since our nation’s inception, that does not make the practice right.
The good news is that the court’s ruling specifically does not apply to the 2010 National Day of Prayer, or to any other future National Days of Prayer until this case has been fully appealed, which could include an appeal to the United States Supreme Court. We will continue to fight in this case through all appeals to protect our religious heritage. It is vitally important that decisions like this attempt to minimize America’s religious historical roots are not allowed to stand.
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