Leaning to the Left

Writing from a liberal persuasion

Why a National Day of Prayer

Posted by Beau Winiger on May 7, 2009

As this post deals with religion in America, I feel it is necessary to start with a disclaimer.  This post is not anti-religion.  I have no problem with people who pray, feel that religion plays an important part in their life, or wish that others would pray more.

Today is National Day of Prayer.  In 1952 it was passed into law that all Americans should pray for their nation on the first Thursday of May.  For the past 8 years, under the Bush presidency, this day was celebrated very publicly as an interfaith day of union to pray for our country.  President Obama has decided to not celebrate this day with any public ceremony, and because of this he is receiving a lot of heat about why he would choose to do so.  Pat Buchanan has said that “what [Obama has] done here is clearly disrespect the Christian community deliberately”. 

This nation was founded upon the idea of religious freedom.  That was the driving force for the Pilgrims to flee England and come to America.  It was important enough to be the first amendment listed in the Bill of Rights.  There is therefore no reason that this nation should expect their President to publicly support religion, no matter what his own faith might be.  President Obama’s decision to not publicly celebrate this day is an important step in removing religion from the day to day workings of the state.  But this decision was not enough, for the same administration has also asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation claiming that the day violates the First Amendment. 

Those that support the National Day of Prayer, specifically the National Day of Prayer Task Force, are failing to realize that this nation, while predominantly religious, is also made up of a large number of atheists and agnostics, according to a recent Gallup poll as many as 15% of Americans.  To require a government sponsored day that blatantly disregards these millions of people is unacceptable.  Those that support this day so strongly are discounting the inherent worth of these people and their right to live without being subject to a government that clearly favors the religious over those without belief.

When one takes a look at the Bible it looks as if even Jesus would be against a National Day of Prayer.  “But you, when you pray, enter into your room.  And shutting your door, pray to your Father in secret; and your Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly” Matthew 6:6.  Hardly a ringing endorsement from the basis of Christian teaching.  A Christian that believes Jesus might be worth listening to is left with no other choice than to oppose a National Day of Prayer.  Disregarding the constitutional implications you are still left with a sense of going against the will of Jesus in having such a nationally recognized day.  Also, it would seem that most people that pray and love their country would probably pray for their country without being told to do so.  A government dictate that you should pray hardly seems the most sincere path to God’s ear.

In this author’s opinion, a person that pushes for public prayer is only concerned with showing everyone else how much he or she believes in God.  Religion is a deeply personal matter.  That is why arguments about it often end up so heated (and also why I felt the need for the disclaimer).  To move it into a governmental realm is to authorize the government with responsibility that it, by law and religious belief, has no business dealing in.  Religion is too often used in this country as a judgement tool for politics.  The religious right strongly supported President Bush simply because he often used his office as a bully pulpit to spread his own beliefs.  President Obama has chosen not to do so, and has therefore been demonized by that same religious base.  The same Christian religion that is often claimed to be the base of this country should be primarily concerned with a person’s actions, do they conduct themselves in a manner that God would approve of, and yet those that push for such constitutionally unsound ideas as the National Day of Prayer, by definition, believe that a person’s public professions of faith carry great importance.

Everyone should be free to profess their own faith, or lack thereof.  That is one of the many things that makes this country great.  If religious people in this country feel there is a need for a National Day of Prayer then let them place the burden of promotion squarely where it belongs, with the churches, mosques, and temples of this country.  But please, we did not, or I hope we did not, elect our president for him to be both a political and religious leader.

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3 Responses to “Why a National Day of Prayer”

  1. lightfromtheright said

    Good article.

    On a gut level I’d love to disagree, but pushing that aside, I have to say you make some very good points.

  2. Laura said

    As a Libertarian who isn’t particularly in favor of governmental interference in stuff, I totally agree. I might not support President Obama with everything he does, but how he chooses to honor today (or not) is up to him. He’s not our pope, he’s our president.

    I’m a Christian, and I agree with your perspective on those who have to flaunt how much they pray – I remember high school well enough to have not-so-fond memories of the FCA.

  3. Sniggle said

    the fact that this has been an “8 year tradition”, i think the religious side of america has gotten used to celebrating this day. there isn’t a written document that states the president HAS to publicly acknowlege this day.
    sometimes i think it’d be good for us to go and get an amendment refresher course! hehe

    ahhhh – americal and habits. gotta love it! 😉

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