State-Sponsored Supplications: Does the United States Really Need a National Day of Prayer?
Congress has proclaimed that the first Thursday in May - May 1, this year - be set aside as a National Day of Prayer. There will be prayer breakfasts and similar events conspicuously attended by elected officials, politicians and sectarian persona.
But, should Congress and state officials be promoting prayer at all? According to the Constitution, no!
The First Amendment guarantees two things: (1) that Congress will not prohibit the free exercise of religion; and (2) that Congress will make no law respecting an establishment of religion. These two clauses embody the wall separating church and state - a wall that is supposed to keep government out of religion, period.
Why, then, did Congress create in 1952, and then codify in 1988, a “national” day of prayer? If your answer is, “True to the intentions of the Constitution’s framers, America is Christian Nation,” you’d be wrong. Indeed, creating any kind of a religious nation, Christian or otherwise, is exactly what the framers were trying to avoid when they drafted the First Amendment. And for good reason.
At the time the First Amendment was adopted there actually were official state churches held over from colonial times. People were prosecuted and imprisoned for their religious practices and public statements at odds with those of the official or prevailing local religious views. Jews and Muslims were demonized and persecuted; Christians often violently disagreed over Biblical interpretation, religious doctrine and practice. Each sect had its own lock on the truth.