John Jalsevac (Apr. 16, 2010)
A little history:
June 30, 1812: It being a duty peculiarly incumbent in a time of public calamity and war, humbly and devoutly to acknowledge our dependence on Almighty God, and to implore His aid and protection:
Therefore, Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that a joint committee of both Houses wait on the President of the United States, and request that he recommend a day of public humiliation and prayer to be observed by the people of the United States, with religious solemnity, and the offering of fervent supplications to the Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States, His blessing on their arms, and the speedy restoration of peace. (Resolution requesting the President of the United States to recommend a day of public humiliation and prayer)
In a decision released Thursday, U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb declared the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. The decision comes in the case filed by The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a Wisconsin-based organization, which challenged the constitutionality of a 1988 federal law giving the president the authority to designate the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer. ("The First Prayer in Congress" by T.H. Matteson 1848)
The day of prayer "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," Crabb wrote. "In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience."
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) which represented 31 members of Congress in an amicus brief defending the National Day of Prayer, said that the decision is flawed and expressed confidence that it will be overturned.
"It is unfortunate that this court failed to understand that a day set aside for prayer for the country represents a time-honored tradition that embraces the First Amendment, not violates it," said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ.
"This decision runs counter to well established legal precedent and we're confident that this flawed decision ultimately will be overturned.”
Sekulow said that ACLJ will be appealing the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. If the appeals court refuses to overturn the decision, Sekulow said that the ACLJ will bring it before the Supreme Court.
He said he is confident that the Supreme Court would “ultimately determine that such proclamations and observances like the National Day of Prayer not only reflect our nation's rich history, but are indeed consistent with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment."
In its brief filed with the federal district court in Madison, Wisconsin, the ACLJ represented itself and 31 members of the 111th Congress – including Rep. J. Randy Forbes of Virginia, who chairs the Congressional Prayer Caucus.
The ACLJ brief noted that the country has a long history of recognizing a national day of prayer dating back to the late 1700's with the Continental Congress recommending that the states set apart a day for prayer and thanksgiving. The brief states that "the historical evidence establishing a National Day of Prayer as deeply embedded in the tradition and history of this country is indisputable."