National Day of Prayer ruled unconstitutional

April 16, 2010 • 5:38 am

Ruling on a suit filed by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (yay Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor!), Federal judge Barbara Crabb found that the proclamation of a National Day of Prayer violated the Constitution’s provision for separation of church and state.  Crabb ruled that the official proclamation amounts to a governmental call for religious action.   According to MSNBC:

“It goes beyond mere ‘acknowledgment’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context,” Crabb wrote. “In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.”

But Crabb also says her order does not block any prayer day until after appeals in the case are exhausted.

You can download Crabb’s 66-page opinion here.


White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that the ruling therefore doesn’t prevent Obama from issuing a Day of Prayer proclamation in May and that the president will do so.

Now I wonder what our conservative Supreme Court will do with this one? I can see Scalia squirming and squinting hard at the Constitution.

Fig. 1.  Judge and Hero Barbara Crabb, who can expect a deluge of hate mail.

20 thoughts on “National Day of Prayer ruled unconstitutional

  1. Since religion is compatible with science I think you’ll find that the National Day of Prayer has, in fact, a scientific purpose.
    Unless, of course, it’s a prayer to a God who created the world in 7 days – in which case it’s blasphemy!

    1. Actually Sigmund, he created the world in just 6 days (a modern record) and by the seventh was just plumb tuckered out.

  2. “I can see Scalia squirming and squinting hard at the Constitution.”

    Based on his record, that’d be the first time he’s even seen the Constitution.

    1. I suspect Scalia will start by writing down his conclusion, and then filling out backwards how he hopes to get there from the starting data. This technique is obvious in some of his other decisions, such as his dissent in Edwards v. Aguillard.

      1. Thats better judicial consideration than Thomas will put into it. And I am not being sarcastic

  3. There is little to celebrate. Mike Newdow won his case challenging “under god” in 2002. And it was all for naught.

    1. I see your point Mr Ape. Curious, I reminded myself of the National Day of Prayer story: goes back to the Continental Congress, J. Adams, A. Lincoln, the 1952 congress.It is always startling-to me- that despite all it is argued, state and religion are always intertwined in the history of the US, till now-Barack wont change this. Judge Crabb already received plenty of hate mail upholding Chippewa rights in Wisconsin,: a very unpopular ruling among settlers, a very popular ruling among Indians

  4. Scalia won’t squirm at all. His face might turn purple as he unleashes a few choice oaths, but he won’t squirm. Then he’ll just get down to the business of explaining how a National Day of Prayer is perfectly consistent with the Establishment clause, and how anyone who thinks otherwise is an unprincipled knave who is twisting the plain words of our beloved Constitution into something the founders could not even recognize. And he’ll believe it, too.

  5. I can see Scalia squirming and squinting hard at the Constitution.

    Nah. First of all, why would Scalia be squirming? This is a chance to reaffirm his culture war credentials!

    Secondly, it’s actually not to hard to stretch the constitution to allow the National Day of Prayer. The question is whether you interpret “establishment of religion” as being the actual imposition of religion, the endorsement of a particular religion, or the endorsement of religion in general. All of us here prefer the third interpretation, but long-standing precedent has seemed to favor the second interpretation.

    And FWIW, from a purely textualist point of view, even the first interpretation is defensible…

    Scalia’s not an actual textualist (nobody is) but whenever it’s convenient he can claim to be. This is a no-brainer for him. He just has to say, “What? We aren’t establishing or endorsing any particular religion, we’re just saying prayer is nice. Fuck off, you mean strident atheists!” (well, in legalese of course)

  6. Mike Newdow told me that the attitude of some of the Supreme justices toward religious displays is something like, “You don’t like that? Well, I do. Let’s keep it.”

  7. Now Denmark also has a ‘Great Prayer Day’, instituted by Christian V in the 17th century to make an end to the mishmash of saintly days. Yet
    few people will protest it because it’s also a holiday. Thank you, oh Lord, for this day You give me to do my garden and drink beer.

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