Federal judge rules National Day of Prayer unconstitutional

Who wants to join me in a traditional Hot Air atheist high five for this important victory over a proclamation no one pays much attention to anyway?

Low five? Anyone?

Judge Crabb, an appointee of former President Jimmy Carter, wrote in her decision that ‘”some forms of ‘ceremonial deism,’ such as legislative prayer, do not violate the establishment clause.” But she said the National Day of Prayer goes too far.

“It goes beyond mere acknowledgment of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context,” she said. “In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.”…

The suit was originally filed against then-President George W. Bush and members of his administration, but President Obama is now listed as the defendant because the president enforces the statute in question by issuing a proclamation each year declaring National Day of Prayer.

You’ll find the court’s opinion here. As with most judicial opinions these days, it’s at least three times longer than it needs to be, but I’ll snip the conclusion:

I understand that many may disagree with that conclusion and some may even view it as a criticism of prayer or those who pray. That is unfortunate. A determination that the government may not endorse a religious message is not a determination that the message itself is harmful, unimportant or undeserving of dissemination. Rather, it is part of the effort to “carry out the Founders’ plan of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possible in a pluralistic society.” McCreary County, 545 U.S. at 882 (O’Connor, J., concurring). The same law that prohibits the government from declaring a National Day of Prayer also prohibits it from declaring a National Day of Blasphemy.

It is important to clarify what this decision does not prohibit. Of course, “[n]o law prevents a [citizen] who is so inclined from praying” at any time. Wallace, 472 U.S. at 83-84 (O’Connor, J., concurring in the judgment). And religious groups remain free to “organize a privately sponsored [prayer event] if they desire the company of likeminded” citizens. Lee, 505 U.S. at 629 (Souter, J., concurring). The President too remains free to discuss his own views on prayer. Van Orden, 545 U.S. at 723 (Stevens, J., dissenting). The only issue decided in this case is that the federal government may not endorse prayer in a statute as it has in § 119.

I assume this year’s NDOP, scheduled for May 6, will proceed as scheduled since this case is bound to be on appeal at the time. If the appeal fails, they’ll re-write the statute so that in lieu of a national prayer day we’ll have a national “prayer is great” day or something where it’s slightly more ambiguous whether people are being nudged to participate. Incidentally, there was an idiotic rumor circulating this morning, seemingly out of the blue, that The One had already canceled the NPOD. (It’s not true, of course. Last year he eschewed any White House service, but the proclamation remains intact.) I’m used to dumb Obama rumors by now, but this one was especially dumb for the same reason that that rumor that he’d banned fishing or whatever was especially dumb — even if you thought he was secretly itching to do it, it’d be the purest political insanity to actually follow through. Not in a million years would he pick that fight since he’d lose much, much more by doing it than he’d gain. As for his decision to cancel the WH service, I think we know the score on that point and that’s all I’m going to say about it. Wink.

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