- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 22, 2010

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers Wednesday denounced a federal judge’s recent ruling that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional and said they were calling on President Obama to aggressively appeal the decision.

“What brings us together today is a misguided court decision which threatens the long-standing tradition of this country,” said Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican. “I urge the Obama administration to appeal this decision and to dedicate the best and brightest minds of the Justice Department to this case.”

Mr. Wolf, a co-sponsor of the legislation President Reagan signed in 1988 that designated the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer, was joined by about 20 Republican and Democratic lawmakers from the Congressional Prayer Caucus in issuing a House resolution calling for Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to appeal the April 15 decision by a federal judge in Wisconsin.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled in favor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in a lawsuit the group filed in 2008 that contended the day violated the separation of church and state.

“The National Day of Prayer 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,” Judge Crabb wrote in her ruling. “In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.”

Rep. Mike McIntyre, North Carolina Democrat, disagreed, saying the original law stated that people “may” turn to God on that day.

“The last time I knew ‘may’ didn’t mean ‘you shall,’ ” he said. “I think that three-letter word clears that up.”

The lawmakers expressed confidence that the case would be overturned on appeal.

Still, the bipartisanship included a mix of encouragement and criticism for Mr. Obama.

“Despite what President Obama or those in his administration may say, America is and always has been a nation of Christian values,” said Rep. Todd Tiahrt, Kansas Republican. “I am calling on my colleagues to join us in fighting this nefarious ruling. Given the lengthy precedent set by the Supreme Court on this and related issues, we have no doubt this ill-advised ruling will be overturned.”

He might have foreshadowed a partisan divide over the president’s Supreme Court nominee to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.

“Our need for dependence on God has been recognized since the founding fathers of our country and should not be discarded by a liberal-activist judge.”

The National Day of Prayer was mandated by Congress and the White House in 1953, and its roots have been traced back to the late 1700s and the Continental Congress.

Judge Crabb said she will not enforce the ruling until the appeals process is complete.

White House spokesman Matthew A. Lehrich said Wednesday that President Obama intends to recognize a national day of prayer, as he did last year.

“We have reviewed the court’s decision and it does not prevent the president from issuing a proclamation,” he said.

President Obama was criticized in 2009, his first year in office, for not holding a formal White House service for religious leaders on prayer day and not attending a large Catholic prayer breakfast the following day, as President George W. Bush did the previous eight years.

The White House said at the time that the president prays every day but chose to observe prayer day his own way.

Rep. Lincoln Davis, Tennessee Democrat, said the lawmakers have yet to meet to discuss how to approach the White House about the appeal but “rest assured, we are working with the administration to have a day of prayer for this great nation.”

The Justice Department said it is reviewing the ruling and has not made a decision about appeal the case, which addresses the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

“I understand the power of people getting together to pray,” said former Rep. Tony Hall, an Ohio Democrat who appeared with Mr. Wolf at Wednesday’s Capitol Hill news conference. “I’ve been praying for more than 25 years with Democrats and Republicans.

When we have a problem, we pass a bill. Imagine what would happen in Washington if [we] prayed together. The American people want that.”

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