President Bush made two presidential proclamations designating September 16 as a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the Victims of Hurricane Katrina, and September 9th through 11th National Days of Remembrance for the victims of terrorism and the fallen veterans of his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Setting aside for the moment the obvious issue of his naked attempt to elide the outrage of 9/11 with his war of folly in Iraq, I wonder where he finds the authority to proclaim such national prayer services?
In the proclamations themselves he makes a broad claim of authority for calling people to worship using the White House press office as a muezzin. He claims this religious function is based on “the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States.” I question whether such authority exists. The powers of the President enumerated by the Constitution certainly do not include being the nation’s pastor, and no act of Congress, itself enjoined from establishing religion, could confer ecumenical religious powers on the Presidency.
I certainly concede that a secular day of observation and ceremony to honor the memory of those who have died in disaster, war, and terrorist attack is warranted, but I do not think that any American President has the authority to call Americans to religious services. Nor does this President, in particular, have any moral authority to do so.
A far better memorial to the fallen would be to further real justice and equity in this nation, and to work toward peace and security for all, rather than issuing proclamations from on high calling for empty prayers. The ever-starker divisions between rich and poor, between those who can afford justice and those who do without, can only be bridged by acts, not by a costless proclamation of prayers. A President who has worked so assiduously to champion the causes of the powerful, and to denigrate and neglect the causes of the weak, has no more moral authority to proclaim days of remembrance for those his own failings brought low than he has the requisite legal authority to do so.
The prophet Amos related the words of an angry God to an Israel that had begun to trample the rights of the poor, and deny justice to many of its people. God said:
“I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts, I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.” (Amos 5:21)
Amos said that God wanted justice for His people, not just empty words of worship nor worshipful acts while injustice was done in His name. God proclaimed, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24) When the battered inhabitants of the Gulf coast are inundated with justice, Bush may be able to claim the right to memorialize those who died in Katrina’s waters; not before.
No one appointed Bush our national pastor, and his calls for the nation to worship in the name of those his Administration has wronged are rank hypocrisys in the eyes of any just and decent God.