- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 6, 2010

MADISON, Wis. | Since U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, critics have declared what they think of her: A Marxist. A moron. A disgrace.

One person wrote that he was praying God removes her from office. Several warned she is headed to hell. GOP Rep. Ted Poe of Texas took to the House floor to ask: “What’s next, Judge Crabb? You going to ban Thanksgiving and Christmas as national holidays?”

Judge Crabb, a 31-year veteran of the bench in this liberal state capital, has faced harsh criticism before. Those close to her say the 1979 appointee of President Carter won’t be intimidated.

In her ruling last month, the judge said the law creating the tradition being observed Thursday is an unconstitutional call to religious action. She quickly became a magnet in the contentious debate over the role of religion in public life — denounced by Christian activists for overstepping, but hailed as a profile in courage by atheists, agnostics and non-Christians who feel excluded from the day.

“Babs, we Americans and veterans will be praying on the public square on May 6,” one Vietnam veteran from Cleveland wrote, part of the one-inch thick stack of critical e-mails and letters her office has received. “Try to stop us.”

President Obama, whose administration is appealing the ruling, has urged citizens to “pray, or otherwise give thanks” for the nation’s freedom and blessings. And Judge Crabb herself put enforcement of the ruling on hold pending the appeal, meaning thousands of prayer events — including one on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol — will go on as scheduled.

But advocates for the separation of church and state plan to gather Thursday as well, rallying in front of the Wisconsin’s state Capitol to praise Judge Crabb’s ruling and call for an end to the National Day of Prayer.

The 71-year-old judge, who declined an interview request, has never been afraid to make rulings unpopular with “Joe Blow on the street” when she believes the law calls for it, said Krista Ralston, who was the judge’s first law clerk after she was elevated to the bench three decades ago.

In the late 1980s, protesters burned Judge Crabb’s likeness in effigy after she allowed Indian tribes to spearfish off their reservations — a practice some white fishermen think ruined their sport. Demonstrators threw rocks, uttered racial slurs and accused Judge Crabb of giving Indians special treatment.

“Talk about developing thick skin — that’ll do it for you,” said Kendall Harrison, who worked for the judge as a law clerk from 1995 to 1997.

In 1997, Judge Crabb upheld a Wisconsin law that requires women to wait 24 hours before having an abortion, saying Supreme Court precedents required her to rule that way.

In the National Day of Prayer decision, Judge Crabb found Congress violated the First Amendment by passing a law directing the president to encourage citizens to pray, and said the law amounted to a government endorsement of a religious exercise. She emphasized that her conclusion was not a judgment “on the value of prayer or the millions of Americans who believe in its power.”

But she said the government can no more encourage citizens to pray than to “fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge or practice rune magic.”

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