Letter to the Editor, Cromwell Chronicle, May 13, 2016
By William Cooney
On April 15, 2010, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb issued her brave and thoughtful ruling that the federal law calling for a National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional. But, as was not totally unforeseen, the ruling was reversed on appeal on technical grounds saying the plaintiffs “lacked standing” to sue. And now the unholy alliance between church and state continues even to this day.
Why would anyone have something against praying you might ask? It is important to note that while atheists, humanists and other free-thinking secularists in this country have serious doubts as to its efficacy, we in fact vigorously defend anyone’s right to pray—anywhere, anytime. What we oppose is a law, passed by Congress in 1952, that instructs the President of the United States to set aside one day a year and calls on citizens to pray in observance of a National Day of Prayer. As Judge Crabb rightly pointed out in her ruling, this was a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment establishment clause, which prohibits the creation of any “law respecting an establishment of religion.”
So why wasn’t Judge Crabb’s ruling upheld? This is a fair question, and the answer no doubt relates to how and why religion enjoys such vast privileging in our culture. One might also ask why religious people—and religious organizations—even bother to seek the endorsement of government when carrying out an activity that is plainly religious in nature. And again the explanation seems clear: to continue currying political favor with the governing class thereby rendering those who do not pray second-class citizens.
In last month’s Facing Your Faith column in the Chronicle, Rev. Scott B. Jones of Hilltop Covenant Church wrote, “if you are not a person who prays, why not remember our nation, military, leaders, etc., in your thoughts Thursday, May 5?” That’s a great idea, Reverend Jones. Why don’t those of you who do pray do so without seeking the imprimatur of local, state or federal government officials? For the same reasons a nativity scene doesn’t belong on the lawn of the local town hall, public prayer should be practiced without the endorsement of government. The message it sends is not unifying; it is divisive.