President Donald J. Trump officially proclaimed Sunday, September 3, 2017 (traditionally the sabbath for most Christian denominations) as a National Day of Prayer to commemorate the devastation to life and property caused by Hurricane Harvey. The day before, while visiting with sufferers of the storm’s wrath, Trump said that “Tomorrow’s a very big day, so go to your church and pray and enjoy the day.”
Whatever happened to the alleged wall separating religion and government? While the courts have attempted to reinforce this partition, our presidents have continually attempted to tear it down.
Though Donald’s order created an ad hoc National Day of Prayer, in April 2010, Judge Barbara Crabb of the U.S. District Court in Wisconsin ruled that the annual National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional by violating the First Amendment’s establishment clause. In her ruling, Judge Crabb stated:
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 added that no law prevents people in the United States from praying or from creating non-governmental days of prayer, concluding:
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.”
Congress established The National Day of Prayer during the Cold War in 1952 (and added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, “In God We Trust” to U.S. coins during the Civil War, and to paper money in 1956).
In 1988, Congress set the annual National Day of Prayer as the first Thursday in May. President Obama – under whose presidency the court declared it unconstitutional – chose to ignore the ruling by issuing a proclamation beginning:
Throughout our Nation’s history, Americans have come together in moments of great challenge and uncertainty to humble themselves in prayer.”
George W. Bush and other elected leaders have invoked their Christian faith as the foundation of their political ideology. While governor of Texas, Bush officially declared June 10, 2000 as “Jesus Day,” and he advised all Texans “to follow Christ’s example by performing good works in their communities and neighborhoods.”