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Opening Arguments

Without a prayer

This judge's ruling seems to be based on a very narrow definition of the establishment clause:

A federal judge on Thursday struck down the federal statute that established the National Day of Prayer, ruling that it violates the constitutional ban on government-backed religion.

"[I]ts sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function," a Wisconsin judge wrote in the ruling, referring to the 1952 law that created the National Day of Prayer.

"In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience," wrote the judge, Barbara B. Crabb.

Yes, praying is "an inherently religious exercise," but that just means it's common to most religions. The voluntary day isn't an attempt to "establish" one religion above all others, which is what the Constitution's drafters were concerned about. They didn't require government to be hostile to the very idea of religion, which seems to be where a lot of modern interpretation, including Judge Crabb's, seems to have landed. The law purposely requires the day to be one other than Sunday, so it isn't even inherently Christian.

The government setting aside one day on which I can pray, if I feel like it, doesn't seem very coercive to me. The director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State says the decision is a "tremendous victory for religious liberty," which seems more than a tad hyperbolic.


Fri, 04/16/2010 - 9:00am

I think you're not getting it (possibly intentionally - because you're a sharp guy). The government isn't setting aside a day when you can pray. You can pray every day, government or no. (And if the government was removing days when you could pray, that would also be a violation of the Establishment Clause.)

Rather, the government is encouraging people to pray. It is taking a position on religion, in favor of religion, in an action that has *no secular purpose.* If the government were encouraging people not to pray, that would also be a violation of the Establishment Clause.

The government should simply not be involved in matters of religion. Government has enough on its plate, and God can take care of himself.

Leo Morris
Fri, 04/16/2010 - 9:37am

How is "the government encouraging people to pray" a violation of the establishment clause or any other constitutional principle?

tim zank
Fri, 04/16/2010 - 10:03am

National Day Of Prayer does nothing to promote a specific religion, nor does it force anyone to stop what they are doing and pray on that day, nor has it ever been an issue.

Why is this even an issue? Because a handful of nutbags who have nothing better to do with their lives than waste everyone elses time and money on things they find objectionable to make themselves feel important. Not harmful mind you, but objectionable. Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame or their existence validated and now the best way to do that is through our legal system because our legal system bends over backwards to accomodate the crazies and fake victims.

Meddlesome people with no life constantly incensed at others who do have lives, families, traditions, and beliefs.

Isn't an Official White House Dinner honoring Ramadan along the same lines? Try ruling against that and see what happens.

Andrew J.
Fri, 04/16/2010 - 1:52pm

You are right, Tim. Why is this even an issue? "Because a handful of (religious) nutbags who have nothing better to do with their lives than waste everyone else's time and money on things they find objectionable (the inability for you and I to pray unless there's a special day set aside for it) to make themselves feel important."
Seems the argument you made regarding the "nutbag" objectioners applies to the "holier than thous" who foisted this day upon us in the first place back in 1952.

Fri, 04/16/2010 - 2:16pm

It's a violation because there was no secular purpose to the government action. The only purpose it serves is a religious one.

I couldn't rely on this argument personally, but it should be a slam dunk for strict constructionists. No "promoting prayer" in the Constitution. Maybe in the penumbras?

I wouldn't have bothered bringing the suit. But, I think that's how it goes with a lot of Constitutional protections. Zealous nutbags pushing at the edges of government boundaries so those of us closer to the middle don't ever really have to feel the squeeze.

Lewis Allen
Fri, 04/16/2010 - 7:23pm

Government should stay out of the prayer business, altogether. Doug makes a good point when he posits (paraphrasing) "What if the government were to encourage people NOT to pray". Strange how conservatives dislike government intrusion except when it comes to stuff like this.

tim zank
Fri, 04/16/2010 - 10:08pm

Lewis: you say "

Danny McNeal
Fri, 04/16/2010 - 10:48pm

Thank you, Mr. Morris, for getting the ball rolling on this important societal issue on Opening Arguments.

"This judge

Danny McNeal
Fri, 04/16/2010 - 11:06pm

Mr. Zank, what is there to say except to point out that the problem with "common sense" is that (a) no one can agree on what it is, and (b) common sense leads to "obvious truths" such as that the earth is flat? That's why so many have abandoned the concept of "common sense" for that which is empirically calculable, such as the inductions of logic and reason.

Here's an example from an article from MIT's "Technology Review" (http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/24124/) containing a discussion of the limitations of "common sense" due to common human logical fallacies as shown in a famous experiment, conducted independently many times and confirmed, in which those being studied are asked to read a short paragraph, such as:

"Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations."

Then they are asked, "Which is more probable---that (1) Linda is a bank teller, or (2) Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement." An alarming and deeply concerning 85% of people actually choose the second option(!), whereas, as the article correctly points out, "...the probability of two events occurring together (in conjunction) is always less than or equal to the probability of one of them alone." Thus, the correct answer is, in fact, the first option.

This exemplifies the danger in people imagining that their "common sense" and lay reckonings are up to the task of sussing out the answer to highly complex constitutional questions that impact federal law. I do not suggest that these discussions are off limits to the lay, only that lay reckonings and "common sense" have no place in these discussions, only empiric evidence and logical chains of reasoning demonstrating that conclusions follow from that empiric evidence. Anything else is just static and noise. I mean, we're talking about the federal legal code of our nation here. Call me crazy, but I think that calls for our A-game, not "common sense."

Andrew J.
Sat, 04/17/2010 - 6:51am

If we need government to encourage us to pray, heaven help us all!

Lewis Allen
Sat, 04/17/2010 - 7:32pm

Tim, once again, you're wrong. If the government stayed silent on the issue, which it should, it would not be encouraging people NOT to pray. Nor it would it be encouraging people TO pray. False dichotomy.

tim zank
Sun, 04/18/2010 - 2:36pm

Lewis, is an "acknowledgement" by the Government for a National Day Of Prayer of ALL Religions really such a BFD? I guess I just can't fathom how something like this could ever be considered a threat to anyone, how anyone could/would/has ever felt the urge to run out and become a catholic, protestant,jew or a muslim the day after this "acknowledgement".

The government recognizes or acknowledges all kinds of days as a "special" day for things that are considered beneficial to citizens.

Andrew, it wasn't exactly "foisted"on us either... more like "revived" from earlier versions courtesy of wiki:

There have been several national days of prayer in the U.S. before the day was made official in 1952. The Continental Congress issued a day of prayer in 1775 to designate "a time for prayer in forming a new nation." During the Quasi-War with France, President John Adams declared May 9, 1798 as "a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer," during which citizens of all faiths were asked to pray "that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it".[3]

On March 30, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the following proclamation:

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.

And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.

And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. 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!

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward, Secretary of State[4]

Andrew J.
Mon, 04/19/2010 - 6:54am

Supporters of a national day of prayer obviously will find it as no BFD because, well, it's just prayer, at worst a benign, innocuous kind of activity. Yet having a day encouraging people to pray is coercive; just imagine what a school kid has to say to a teacher, or some other adult, for example, when asked, "Johnny, are you going to pray on this special day today?" Or "would you like to join us in prayer?" It's impressionable people like that society has to protect from government coercion, no matter how well intentioned, even moreso than adults like us who when asked what they're doing on a national prayer day, can respond, "I'm going to curse a lot on that day instead because that's what I do when confronted with life's challenges."

tim zank
Mon, 04/19/2010 - 8:39am

Coercion my arse. Just secular meddlesome nannies with a distorted view of what's important..

Amazes me how a miniscule band of societal misfits can wreak such chaos on our legal system.

Danny McNeal
Wed, 04/21/2010 - 10:34pm

"How do you respond to these logical refutations, Mr. Morris?"

Didn't think so. Mr. Morris, you use only emotional arguments with no logical cohesion in your blog's posts and, when those arguments are logically refuted, you and yours fall ever silent. How can public forum debates in our country ever move forward when those such as yourself behave this way? What precisely is the purpose of your blog?

tim zank
Thu, 04/22/2010 - 8:34am

Danny McNeal asks "What precisely is the purpose of your blog?"

I can't speak as to Leo's "purpose" but I do know a wonderful benefit of his blog is it's ability to wind the stem of pseudo-intellectuals like yourself.

Kind of a palate cleanser for us knuckle draggers.

Susie Q.
Thu, 04/22/2010 - 10:46am

Frank Barrone, portrayed by Peter Boyle on EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, definitely would shout, "Holy crap!" But this particular discussion of "holy crap" rates 4 stars--even though reading through this back and forth debate begs the question: Why does (or does not) the topic of religion bring out the be(a)st in people?

Danny McNeal
Thu, 04/22/2010 - 11:20am

tim zank:

Andrew J.
Thu, 04/22/2010 - 12:13pm

You know, one of the first groups of people that were harassed/ridiculed by the Nazis were "liberal" intellectuals. And I wonder if Tim recognizes one of the definitions in the urban dictionary of "knuckle draggers" which he calls himself is: "An insult used against those of extremely low intelligence, or general stupidity."

Danny McNeal
Thu, 04/22/2010 - 1:56pm

AJ: Precisely. Tim uses the bait-and-switch straw man of, "You're calling me a knuckle dragger," to stand in for, "Here are the logical inconsistencies in your arguments. You may, in the end, be right; but you simply won't be right for any of the reasons you've presented so far. Please try again." In reality, of course, no one inferred he was a knuckle dragger.

Susie Q.
Thu, 04/22/2010 - 2:05pm

Danny, I think you are brilliant! I love your remarks...I have gained a wealth of information which I shall call upon in the future--superb.

Danny McNeal
Thu, 04/22/2010 - 2:26pm

Thanks very much, Susie Q!