May 7th was the so-called National Day of Prayer. It is an ad hoc “day” sponsored by the religious right front group Focus on the Family to misinform us all about the erroneous claims that fundamentalist Christians are being persecuted in the United States. President Bush made a public spectacle of the “event” but President Obama only continued the proclamation part. That is a good sign, but there are other reasons to drop the National Day of Prayer.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State have several reasons posted on their website including:
Americans don’t need the government to tell them when or how to pray.
Americans have the right to pray for whomever they want and in what manner they like. But we don’t need an officially designated government proclamation to do that. Our people are free to engage in worship whenever they want. Allowing government to set aside certain days for prayer and worship implies that the state has some say over our religious lives when it does not. It is simply not the business of government to advise when, if and how people pray.
Denying a request for a religious proclamation, Thomas Jefferson wrote:
“I consider the government of the US. as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises.…. I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct its exercises, its discipline, or its doctrines; nor of the religious societies that the general government should be invested with the power of effecting any uniformity of time or matter among them. Fasting & prayer are religious exercises. The enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises, & the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands, where the constitution has deposited it….[E]very one must act according to the dictates of his own reason, & mine tells me that civil powers alone have been given to the President of the US. and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.”
Jan. 23, 1808 letter to a minister named Samuel Miller
Finally, this video from comedian Lewis Black, while a bit dated, expresses why I don’t like my elected officials to hold their religions on their sleeves: