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National Day of Prayer upheld by 7th Circuit
Baptist Press
April 15, 2011
5 MIN READ TIME

National Day of Prayer upheld by 7th Circuit

National Day of Prayer upheld by 7th Circuit
Baptist Press
April 15, 2011

WASHINGTON — A

federal appeals court reversed an April

14, 2010 ruling that had invalidated the National Day of Prayer.

A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago

struck down in a unanimous decision federal judge Barbara Crabb’s opinion that

a law establishing a day for the observance was unconstitutional. The appellate

ruling came almost one year to the day of Crabb’s controversial ruling.

Last year’s 66-page decision by the judge from Wisconsin’s

Western District had threatened a tradition as old as the American republic and

a specific observance in effect for nearly 60 years. Congress passed a resolution

in 1952 calling on the president to establish the National Day of Prayer as an

annual event, which President Truman initiated the same year and which

presidents since have recognized with proclamations. In 1988, Congress amended

the law to set the first Thursday of May for its observance.

Critics of last year’s ruling by Crabb applauded the Seventh Circuit’s

decision.

“I’m grateful that sanity still reigns at the appellate court level, at least

in the Seventh Circuit,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist

Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The idea that the National Day of

Prayer is unconstitutional is absurd on its face. The First Amendment

guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

“Americans have been having national days of prayer long before the

Constitution was ratified and ever since the Constitution was ratified, and,

God willing, we will have them for many centuries into the future,” Land said.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, whose organization filed a

friend-of-the-court brief opposing last year’s opinion, commended the appeals

court “for rejecting even the idea of a federal lawsuit that demands this kind

of religious expression be scrubbed from the public square.”

“Today’s ruling sends a message to Judge Barbara Crabb and any other activist

judge who would rewrite the Constitution to advance a hostile treatment of

religion in public life,” Perkins said in the written statement. “This is a

perfect example of a harassing lawsuit that should have been dismissed at the

outset.”

In writing for the panel, Frank Easterbrook, the Seventh Circuit’s chief judge,

required only nine pages to express the court’s opinion that the Freedom From

Religion Foundation did not have legal standing to sue the president of the United

States over the observance. The organization

— based in Madison, Wis.,

and consisting of atheists and agnostics — had filed suit in 2008, saying the

law violates the First Amendment’s clause barring government establishment of

religion.

Neither the law nor presidential proclamations implementing it injure those

bringing the suit, Easterbrook wrote. The law “does not require any private

person to do anything — or for that matter to take any action in response to

whatever the President proclaims,” he said.

Though the annual presidential proclamation regarding the National Day of

Prayer “speaks to all citizens, no one is obliged to pray, any more than a

person would be obliged to hand over his money if the President asked all

citizens to support the Red Cross and other charities,” Easterbrook wrote. “It

is not just that there are no penalties for noncompliance; it is that

disdaining the President’s proclamation is not a ‘wrong.’”

No sensible person would assume a court should censor a president’s speech to

remove statements that might offend some in the audience, said Easterbrook, who

was nominated by President Reagan.

He cited President Lincoln’s mention of God seven times and prayer three times

in his second inaugural address, which is engraved in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington,

D.C. “An argument that the prominence of

these words injures every citizen, and that the Judicial Branch could order

them to be blotted out, would be dismissed as preposterous,” he wrote.

After Crabb’s ruling last year, the National Day of Prayer Task Force said the

tradition of designating an official day of prayer began with the Continental

Congress in 1775. Afterward, President Washington issued a National Day of

Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Presidents have issued similar proclamations and “appeals to the Almighty” ever

since, according to the task force. Typically, all 50 governors, in addition to

the president, have issued National Day of Prayer proclamations.

Crabb was nominated by President Carter. The other two judges on the Seventh

Circuit who signed the opinion, Daniel Manion and Ann Claire Williams, were

nominated by Presidents Reagan and Clinton, respectively.

The case is Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington

bureau chief for Baptist Press. With reporting by Erin Roach, an assistant

editor of Baptist Press.)

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