Monday, April 19, 2010

Federal Court Shows Establishment Clause Ignorance

On Thursday a federal judge in Wisconsin  ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, claiming it to be a call for religious action that violates our nation's supreme law. Needless to say, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb could not be farther off the mark in her ruling.

According the the Associated Press, Judge Crabb "wrote that the government can no more enact laws supporting a day of prayer than it can encourage citizens to fast during Ramadan, attend a synagogue or practice magic."

Actually, the government could do all of those things and still fall within the pale of the Constitution. Regretfully, the judge's ignorance of the Constitution's meaning is glaring. The First Amendment to the US Constitution merely forbids laws respecting the establishment of religion--an understandable concern for a nation founded as a refuge for religious liberty. Anything that falls short of an establishment of a national church/religion is not the least bit unconstitutional. Of course, the Court has over the years attempted to set up arbitrary barriers around Church-State interactions, but whether or not these barriers are good policy is beside the point. It is constitutionality, not the effects of policy, which should be the Court's concern.

I think it is personally bad policy for the event to happen, but that does not mean I can call such unconstitutional. I believe the National Day of Prayer is a superficial act which does nothing to further the Gospel or health of the Christian faith. To me it is an event that has turned into one big DC charade, therefore, I could care less if it was done away with. But, when it faces cancellation based on false rulings by a federal court, I will be quick to call foul.

Whether or not one agrees with prayer in a political setting is of no concern in the matter. The simple question is "What does the Constitution mean, and is this particular act a violation of such?" If properly approached, a ruling contrary to the Wisconsin court should be the result.

I hold to the classical evangelical position that goes beyond a forbidding of establishment and calls for a lack of mingling the business of church and state, believing that such causes harm to both and a compromise to the Gospel. But even if I think something is in poor taste, I would never be as foolish as to call such unconstitutional.The court system would be wise to follow suit.

Almost as bad as the misguided ruling of the court is the cry of many conservatives.
The American Center for Law and Justice, which represented 31 members of Congress who joined the federal government as defendants, called Crabb's ruling flawed and promised to appeal.

"It is unfortunate that this court failed to understand that a day set aside for prayer for the country represents a time-honored tradition that embraces the First Amendment, not violates it," ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow said in a statement.

The Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based group of Christian lawyers, issued a statement saying Crabb's ruling undermines American tradition dating back to the nation's birth.
Completely missing the mark, these opponents of the ruling point to tradition for support. Tradition is not the final word; the Constitution is. The document's actual meaning should be their source of strength.

What we see in this case is failure on both sides to respect the Constitution. The court appeals to a need for a "significant secular purpose" to constitute prayer. (What could that even be?!?!) And the defendants point to tradition. I would merely like to see the document given the final say; apparently that is too much to ask.

PS: In case you were wondering, the Obama administration is not backing down and intends to go ahead with the National Day of Prayer.


  1. Bravo! I think your analysis is right on target. Too bad the courts are probably not reading this post.

    I've featured you on my blog, should you care to do so, there is a button you could put in your sidebar.

  2. "But even if I think something is in poor taste, I would never be as foolish as to call such unconstitutional.The court system would be wise to follow suit."

    i totally agree with ur stance; i too dont like natl day o prayer, but to say its uncons. is just crazy (with my limited understanding of the document).

    and seriously, y appeal to tradition? r they rcc or something? natl day o prayer has only been around (formally) about 50 years, so really there is no appeal to tradition.