National Day of Prayer Does Not Violate Federal Law

A response to "Are Local Officials Ignoring the Separation of Church and State?" by James Swift

On Wednesday, our esteemed columnist Mr. James Swift published an editorial about the upcoming Cobb County National Day of Prayer breakfast.  In his editorial, he claimed that such an act violates both federal and state law.  This seemed like something that needed to be investigated…

Conclusion: You are blurring a great many lines, Mr. Swift.

The National Day of Prayer is not an endorsement of any religion. Nearly every religion involves prayer (heck, even atheists have been known to pray to their lottery tickets), so it's not cut down to any one religion in particular. 

The National Day of Prayer also does not condemn any religion.  Never have officials speaking on behalf of said day used it as leverage against an opposing religion, whether it be a Christian against Muslim, or a Muslim against a Jew, or an Atheist against a Christian (since a rather frightening number of atheists treat science with religious fervor). 

So, logically, if the National Day of Prayer is neither endorsing a religion nor condemning one, then it does not violate the first amendment. 

You also cited the Georgia State Constitution with the following quote:

“No money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, cult or religious denomination or of any sectarian institution.”

The key word there, James, is “aid.”  I would hardly call providing one breakfast “aiding” a religious institute.  More like a kind gesture aimed at a particular group of individuals. 

Politicians do that all the time.  That’s why they go out of their way to secure “the Black vote” or “the Christian vote” or “the Gay vote.”  They look to gain favor with a particular group of people.

But all that aside, while you did acknowledge everyone’s right to believe what they will, and to speak about it to whomever they choose (which I give you credit for), you seem to come from the school of thought that once a man enters politics, he must abandon his religious beliefs entirely.  Maybe I’m wrong about that, but that seems to be the point you stress.

Here’s a little dose of truth for you: absolutely every politician votes based on his religious beliefs. 

This concept actually applies to many atheists as well.  See, while most that I’ve spoken to seem perfectly fine with playing live and let live, there are those who actively seek the complete abolishment of religion in the United States. 

Those atheists, like Christian, Muslims, Jews, and any other religious groups, will make many of their decisions based on that desire to base everything off of cold, emotionless logic and the desire to take all religion down.     

And now we come to this little gem:

“Lest we forget Sonny Perdue’s infamous decision to “pray for rain” during a prolonged drought in 2007  an act which not only made the citizens of the state look like a bunch of laughably superstitious buffoons, but an act which ultimately proved fruitless.”

I’m detecting a lot of hostility towards people with faith in that statement.  That aside, I see you’re referring to the controversy that brewed when Perdue chose to pray with ministers and lawmakers on the steps of the state capitol and the Atlanta Freethought Society protested. 

My question is this:  What’s the problem?  Politicians are not under any obligation to abandon their religious beliefs when they take office.  Nor is the State allowed to prohibit them from exercising their freedom of religious expression.  And since the prayer in question did not take money from the state treasury, I see no violation here, not so much as a desire for there to be one. 

Let’s review: the National Day of Prayer neither endorses nor condemns any establishment of religion.  I would call it a non-issue. 

The breakfast hosted by Cobb County does not aid a church or religious establishment in any way.  It is merely a gesture to a particular group of individuals.  If I bought you lunch as one friend to another, no one would call that “aiding you.” 

Sonny Perdue and the politicians who prayed with him on the steps of the capitol did not violate any federal law.  No federal law states that a politician must abandon his religious beliefs upon entering office.  The state of Georgia did not pray on those steps; a group of individuals did.

Lastly, as far as what “Tommy Jefferson or Benny Franklin” would think, we’re really not in a place to speak for them, are we?  I will leave you this to mull over, though, concerning Benjamin Franklin’s feeling about church and state:

Four years after the official establishment of the United States of America Benjamin Franklin stood before the Congress and called for prayer to the almighty during every recess of Congress.  Why?  I’ll let him tell you:

“In the beginning of the Contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard and they were graciously answered.  All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending providence in our favor…And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend?  Or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?”

-Benjamin Franklin; June 28, 1787

aveteran April 23, 2011 at 03:30 AM
The NDOP law, passed by Congress, COMPELS the President to proclaim a national day of prayer. The law itself is a violation of the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law..."), and it violates the religious freedom of any individual occupying the office of the President by compelling him/her to perform an action which could possibly be against his/her beliefs. Let's see how you spin that.
Adam Alexander July 11, 2012 at 03:48 AM
Certainly. Type in "abolish all religions" into Google's search engine. You'll see several blogs appear which endorse this idea. Blogging is a form of activism.
Adam Alexander July 11, 2012 at 04:10 AM
You are correct, and perhaps that law should be reevaluated, but it's hardly damaging to the president's religious rights. All it does is compel a president to proclaim the day. He is well within his right to say something to the effect of "today is our National Day of Prayer, although all religions are a load of claptrap." As I've mentioned, neither he nor any politician is not required to endorse or proclaim a religion of any kind.
aveteran July 15, 2012 at 08:17 PM
Even proclaiming a day of prayer is a religious act. He cannot be compelled to do so by any law.
aveteran July 15, 2012 at 08:19 PM
Blogging is a far cry from drafting laws to compel religious exercise.


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