National Day of prayer observed nationwide despite ruling, controversy
Despite a judge’s ruling that declared the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, special observations were held across the nation and in several places in the capital city including the Pentagon, the Cannon House Office Building and the steps of the US Capitol, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Rev. Franklin Graham, who had been disinvited to the Pentagon because of comments he had made regarding the Islamic faith after 911 nonetheless prayed on a sidewalk outside the building. Graham is honorary chairman of the private National Day of Prayer Task Force.
However, President Brack Obama, whose administration on April 22 appealed the judge’s ruling and issued a National Day of Prayer proclamation, did not hold an interfaith observance at the White House, according to the SunGazette.
On April 15, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional and violates the First Amendment. However in her decision, Crabb said ceremonies could still be held pending appeals.
In observances at Williamsport-Lycoming County, Pennsylvania keynote speaker state Superior Court Judge Cheryl Allen challenged Crabb’s argument centered on the separation of church and state, and alleged violation of the First Amendment, the SunGazette said.
Allen said, “I couldn’t find separation of church and state in the Constitution.” Regarding the First Amendment she cited the first part which says, “Congress shall make no laws establishing a religion” and said the founding fathers came to America to escape England, which had established a church and persecuted those who would not attend. Allen then noted the second portion of the First Amendment clause which states: “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
James Dobson, who founded Focus on the Family and whose wife chairs the National Day of Prayer said the event puts a prayer covering over the nation and noted that since 1775 the first Continental Congress called for a national day of prayer.
Dobson noted that 34 out of 44 Presidents have called for a national day of prayer including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, George Herbert Walker Bush and George W. Bush, the New York News Today reported.
Dobson said, “How can something be unconstitutional when it was passed by both houses of Congress unanimously and signed by Ronald Reagan and Harry Truman and implemented by all those Presidents back through the years?”
Charles Haynes, a First Amendment scholar who specializes in religious liberty expects President Obama to succeed with his appeal. He said a judge could possibly cite a 1983 Supreme Court decision that upheld the right to legislative prayer on grounds that “the offering of prayer is a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country,” the Los Angeles Times reported.