Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Van Hollen, Obama on wrong side of 'Day of Prayer' lawsuit

J.B. Van Hollen, Wisconsin's duly elected Attorney General, has joined a legal challenge as a "friend of the court brief" to overturn a recent ruling that declared the National Day of Prayer as an unconstitutional establishment of religion within the federal government.

Van Hollen joins the brief as a supporter of the day of prayer, interestingly enough alongside President Barack Obama, who also supports the national recognition of God through prayer.

If the president wants to issue a proclamation encouraging others to pray on a certain day, he's certainly allowed to do so through his own First Amendment speech rights. What's at issue, however, is whether Congress has the authority to mandate such a proclamation.

Title 36 Section 119 of the U.S. Code states:

"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" (Emphasis added).

Though not specific in nature (but specific enough to enact a proclamation of prayer towards God), this law is a clear endorsement of religion -- a direct violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This means that Congress cannot establish religious laws nor prohibit religious acts performed by the people (unless, of course, those acts interfere with the livelihood of others).

Van Hollen should not join the "friend of the court" brief, nor should Obama take part in defending the law Congress passed unconstitutionally mandating the president to issue such a day of prayer. If the president himself wants to issue such a proclamation voluntarily, he should be free to do so, but not through a requirement that Congress creates (nor to a specific entity like "God").

That declaration should also respect the rights of others to ignore such a proclamation, encouraging atheists and agnostics to take a moment of reflection in their own way. In fact, a "National Day of Reflection" would be much more appropriate, keeping the lines between church and state less blurred, the way that our founding fathers intended.

I am not an atheist; nor do I ascribe to a religion that is not Christian. I myself celebrate Christianity, celebrate Christ's sacrifice, and believe He will return to Earth one day to bring about the End Times. But I do not want any government official advocating any type of prayer whatsoever unless they're doing so as an individual -- that is, they shouldn't use their legislative (or even executive) powers to advocate on behalf of one belief over another. Christ himself discouraged such actions, and if we are to live as He wants us to, so should we discourage our lawmakers from taking part in public prayer.

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