Last week a federal court in Wisconsin ruled that the National Day of Prayer was a violation of the First Amendment separation of church and state, ending a more than 50 year tradition of government sanctioned promotion of non-denominational prayer on a designated day each May.
President Obama declared that he will continue the tradition of designating a day as the National Day of Prayer despite the court’s ruling that such an observance is unconstitutional. Although he issued such a proclamation last year he did not hold any observances or services at the White House in recognition of the National Day of Prayer, unlike all of his predecessors going back to Harry Truman.
The ruling came as a result of a case filed by the Freedom from Religion Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin. Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that the government cannot call for people to engage in a specific religious activity, saying that the National Day of Prayer’s “sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context,” and that “the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.”
President Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said that the ruling “shows the brooding hostility toward religion that exists at some levels of federal, state and local government in this country.”
Critics of the National Day of Prayer have been concerned that it has been transformed from a simple observance of the tradition of non-denominational prayer to an opportunity for aggressive proselytizing by extreme evangelical churches, particularly targeting the public schools.