National Day of Prayer Struck Down: 'Sweet Victory'?

Obama, for one, still intends to recognize it on May 6

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It's a culture-war classic. A federal district judge in Wisconsin has ruled that the congressionally-mandated National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional. Judge Barbara Crabb said that "In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience." The lawsuit was brought about by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which praised the decision as a "sweet victory." Will the ruling stand?

  • People Really Shouldn't Be Angry About This writes Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly: "For all the recent talk about 'big government,' federal 'intrusion,' and getting back to American traditions in line with the Founding Fathers, conservatives should find an official annual prayer day for the nation pretty offensive. It's an entirely modern creation -- the NPD was established in 1952, and set as the first Thursday in May in 1988 -- and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison explicitly rejected state-sponsored prayer days."
  • It's a Pretty Questionable Ruling, writes Eugene Volokh at Volokh Conspiracy: "I find this hard to reconcile with the logic of Marsh v. Chambers (1983), which upheld legislative prayers on the grounds that they go back to the founding of the nation; official proclamations of days of prayer, thanksgiving, and even fasting are just as firmly rooted. The opinion tries to distinguish those proclamations from the National Day of Prayer, but I don’t see the distinctions as having constitutional significance. And while it’s true that Thomas Jefferson refused to issue such proclamations, he was something of an outlier on this; and while James Madison expressed opposition to such proclamations at one point, he nonetheless issued them."

  • Prayer Day Just Rubs Atheists the Wrong Way, writes Bill Egnor at Fire Dog Lake: "There are a lot of things in our society that are like sandpaper on the skin of atheists. One of them is the National Day of Prayer. Every year on the first Thursday of May, the President issues a proclamation urging the people of the United States to pray. For those with a faith that involves prayer this seems pretty innocuous, but it is a real thumb in the eye for citizens without a faith or who don’t have prayer as part of their religious tradition... The government should not be involved in the practice of religion at all."
  • It Probably Won't Stand Anyway, writes Ed Brayton at Science Blogs: "The ruling was made on summary judgment, which means that both sides agreed on the facts of the case and proceeded to the judge's ruling without a trial. Don't get too excited; I fully expect it will get reversed on appeal, by the Supreme Court if not by the 7th Circuit."
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