On April 15, a U.S. District judge issued a ruling declaring the official National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. The U.S. Department of Justice soon followed by stating that the Obama administration will appeal the decision. The National Day of Prayer and, to a larger extent, the role of faith in America are in jeopardy.
The history of the National Day of Prayer can be traced back to 1775 as the Continental Congress “designated a time for prayer in forming a new nation.” George Washington proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer in 1795. Lincoln called the nation to prayer at the height of the Civil War, as did Franklin Roosevelt on the eve of D-Day in 1944. The official National Day of Prayer is a rich American tradition and has enjoyed bipartisan support since it was signed into law by President Harry Truman.
The National Day of Prayer was challenged when a relatively unknown group determined to secularize America initiated a lawsuit against the government targeting the National Day of Prayer as a violation of the separation of church and state. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has a track record of seeking to remove all semblance of God from the public domain. Their hope is that they can parlay their recent victory into a national agenda and rewrite America’s spiritual heritage.
Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) boasts a Who’s Who of atheists and agnostics on their board. This group has the right to reject God but they should not be given the right to dictate to millions of Americans the substance of their faith.
The words of Abraham Lincoln have proven to be prophetic as he proclaimed:
“But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand, which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”
The FFRF would have us believe that the public expression of belief in God discriminates against those who do not share such beliefs and that the expression of faith should, therefore, be unlawful for Americans. If the ruling of U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb had been the law of the land throughout our nation’s history, the long list of law-breakers would include the framers of our Constitution, signers of the Declaration of Independence and the president who held our Union together. Those who would have been guilty of crimes against the Constitution would have included Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman, Reagan and now, Obama.
Lost in the FFRF’s version of America is the distinction between mandating and recognizing prayer, between the establishment of religion and the free exercise thereof. If it were the intent of our Founding Fathers to create a nation where the recognition of God was absent from the public arena, they would never have mentioned the “creator” within the Declaration of Independence. The fact is that the Founding Fathers never imagined an America where God would be unwelcome in the public domain. They knew the difference between freedom from religion and freedom of religion. Prayer in America appears to be at the mercy of judges but, in reality, the judges are at the mercy of God. Persecution has always strengthened and made the church grow. Prayer aligns our nation for blessing.
The role of government is to neither dictate nor discriminate against religion in America. America is not a theocracy and never should be but neither is America a nation without deep spiritual moorings and identity. The Declaration of Independence expressed the convictions of our Founding Fathers when the writers concluded the document with the words:
“with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
Today, some would interpret such words as a violation of church and state but on July 4, 1776, it was a clear recognition of a nation’s dependence on Almighty God. Our Founders took a principled stand at their own peril long before public opinion polls dictated public standards. It continues to be a principled stand today.
Rev. Bill Shuler is pastor of Capital Life Church in Arlington, Virginia. For more, visit CapitalLife.org.
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