A federal court in Wisconsin decided Thursday that the country’s National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional because it calls on citizens to take part in religious activity.
U.S. District Court Judge Barbara B. Crabb ruled that the statute that created the National Day of Prayer violates the Constitution’s prohibition against the government establishment of religion.
Judge Crabb, an appointee of former President Jimmy Carter, wrote in her decision that ‘“some forms of ‘ceremonial deism,’ such as legislative prayer, do not violate the establishment clause.” But she said the National Day of Prayer goes too far.
“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,” she said. “In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.”
The lawsuit was originally filed in 2008 by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. The group said Thursday afternoon that a statement regarding its legal victory would be forthcoming.
The American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative organization that filed briefs in the case on behalf of 31 members of Congress, called Judge Crabb’s ruling “flawed” and vowed to file an 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,” said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ. “If the appeals court fails to reverse this decision, we are confident the Supreme Court will hear the case and ultimately determine that such proclamations and observances like the National Day of Prayer not only reflect our nation’s rich history, but are indeed consistent with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
The suit was originally filed against then-President George W. Bush and members of his administration, but President Obama is now listed as the defendant because the president enforces the statute in question by issuing a proclamation each year declaring National Day of Prayer.
First held in 1952, National Day of Prayer is held the first Thursday of every May. This year’s National Day of Prayer is scheduled for May 6.