A U.S. District Judge has ruled that the statute declaring a National Day of Prayer violates the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment. The statute, inspired by Rev. Billy Graham and introduced by Congressman Percy Priest (no less) in 1952, reads:
The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.
Last month, Judge Crabb issued a ruling (here) that the Freedom From Religion Foundation, having suffered "concrete injury" due to the proclamation, had standing to sue. The Obama administration defended the statute as mere "acknowledgment of the role of religion in American life." The American Center for Law and Justice, representing 31 members of Congress,filed an amicus brief defending the statute.
Judge Crabb's opnion (here) conceded that, "government involvement in prayer may be consistent with the establishment clause when the government's conduct serves a significant secular purpose and is not a 'call for religious action on the part of citizens.'" While allowing "that some forms of 'ceremonial deism,' such as legislative prayer, do not violate the establishment clause," she found that it was violated when government "engages in conduct that a reasonable observer would view as an endorsement of a particular religious belief or practice." An executive call to prayer was deemed as belonging to the latter class.
Judge Crabb stayed her ruling - meaning that it will have no effect - until appeals have been exhausted. The case is a good candidate for Supreme Court review, where I expect it will be overturned. However, the rationale for upholding the statute will be the true issue. The Court will almost certainly find that the proclamation serves the secular (or, ceremonial) function of acknowledging American religiousness.
Far more appealing, and truthful, would be a ruling which acknowledged a call to prayer as a religious act on the part of government - as it was understood by the Founders - rather than pretending that the intention is mere historical observance. Such may be true in other countries, or among certain people, but it is not, I think, the prevailing sentiment of most Americans when called to prayer by their leaders. A decision as to whether James Madison, who drafted the 1st Amendment, violated his own craftsmanship when he proclaimed a day of prayer as president in 1812, would indeed be a bold and worthy opinion.