Thursday, May 6, 2010

I don’t usually sing the praises of fanatical atheists. They seem like such a dour lot. Besides, I’m a little suspect of anyone who gets as excited as a charismatic about claiming there’s nothing to believe in.

But I have to give credit where it is due. The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) recently won a federal lawsuit that ruled the National Day of Prayer is a violation of the First Amendment.

Pretty impressive, considering that only two atheists run the FFRF as co-presidents: Annie Laurie Gaylor and husband Dan Barker, a former evangelical minister.

These two nonbelieving, true believers from Madison, Wis., seem to have more spirit than me and most other believers I know. Last Christmas - I mean solstice - they put up a message in the Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda that said, “Religion is but a myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

They don’t just devote themselves to their nonreligion one hour of one day a week as many Christians do. They and their eight staff members put in countless hours carrying out thankless tasks such as sending out letters to mayors of more than 1,000 cities and governors urging them not to take part in prayer day.

The work has borne fruit. Four recent polls show that 82 percent to 88 percent of Americans claim to be Christian. Yet the numerically insignificant FFRF (14,000 members) has effectively put Christianity and all other religions in America on the defensive. Anyone participating in prayer day will now have to justify it, and in so doing, acknowledge the atheists’ legal challenge.

FFRF filed suit against the federal government two years ago, claiming prayer day violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

President Harry S. Truman signed the law in 1952, requiring the president to issue an annual proclamation asking Americans to pray. Many state and local officials do the same.

Turns out the new ruling cannot take effect until all appeals are exhausted, and the Obama administration has said it will appeal the case, which will likely kill the challenge. But that won’t stop our atheist friends. They now have a toehold in the promised land, and they don’t intend to go back.

FFRP feels empowered by its higher profile brought on by the increased press coverage resulting from their temporary legal victory. And they will continue to say that prayer day amounts to separation of church and state even after a legal defeat.

The atheists know that their real battle is in the court of public opinion, and that if one says something often enough - true or not - perception will often prevail. So Ms. Gaynor makes the point that the law that established National Prayer Day “is based on lies and bad history.”

She contends that our Founding Fathers did not establish our Constitution based on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and that a prayer day was never part of our traditions.

It doesn’t matter that in 1775 the Continental Congress called on Colonists to pray as tensions with England increased. Nor does it matter that George Washington called for prayer while he was president, and that Abraham Lincoln established a “Day of National Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer” during the Civil War.

Nor will FFRF ever acknowledge that President Franklin D. Roosevelt led the nation in a radio prayer on D-Day, the invasion of Normandy during World War II.

The atheist group is on a “holy” mission, which I respect. I understand what faith the size of a mustard seed can do. This isn’t about turning the other cheek. Jesus never said lie down and play dead when the other side gets out of hand. Ask the money changers.

Dave Berg was, until recently, a co-producer for “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno.

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