It has always been my opinion that the right to pray or not to pray is a personal choice. I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not qualified to say whether a National Day of Prayer is constitutional or not. But I strongly believe in the separation of church and state.
Those who advocated for such a day back in 1952 were probably well-meaning, as was President Harry Truman when he signed the bill. The same could be said of those members of Congress who affixed the day for national observance to be the first Thursday of May. But the fact remains, it's a step closer to bridging the gap between church and state, and I decline to agree with such a move.
I view this most recent controversy in the same way I view the matter of prayer in school. People are free to pray silently whenever and wherever they want. Whether they are in school or not does not nullify that right and whether or not they have a designated day to exercise that right, I think, is moot. I just think the government needs to stay out of it.
Many people, of course, insist that America is a Christian country. That depends on how one defines Christianity, and that leads to major disagreements. All one has to do is count the number and kind of Christian denominations to arrive at the conclusion that very few of them agree on matters of doctrine, and so it would be impossible to imagine that we could have a Christian government which could span all those beliefs. Christianity, after all, is a free-will religion. Forcing people to comply with its tenets is contradictory, to say the least.
Throughout our history, I think, the business of trying to bring religion into our public life has done nothing but create confusion. Such things as placing "In God We Trust" on our money and adding "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance divides rather than unites us. Fostering the false self-image that Americans are the best and most superior of all the people on the face of the earth has led the country down this path. It is one thing to be proud of one's country but quite another to try to assume supremacy over other nations. The companion lunacy is the belief that no matter what America chooses to do, God is always on our side. Many children are taught this from infancy.
As a friend once said, it is not enough for some to have a personal religion; they must covet the souls of us all and therefore try to establish a national religion. Well, the fight is on. On April 15, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara B. Crabb in Wisconsin ruled that the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional. The suit was filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
One can only hope this will bring about a civil discourse on the subject. The belief by many that all Americans should be Christians and that it is the only religion that should exist in this USA is unfortunate. But that belief has persisted in the country for a long time; the fact that this ruling applies to people of any religion who participate in this observance will probably merit little consideration.
I am sure that many of my religious friends will be furious with the district court judge for her actions. They also mean well, but their traditions teach them that there should be no separation between church and state regardless of what appears in the U.S Constitution. They will contend that the Constitution was in error when it made such a determination, and a REAL Christian has no choice but to disobey it.
I think such efforts of picking and choosing which laws we will obey and picking out parts of the U.S. Constitution which we feel are valid is dangerous behavior. Whether we agree or disagree with the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretations, as citizens we are bound to obey them until such times as they are changed. I certainly don't know how the court will rule in this case, but I know that I will abide by it.
I don't really think most Americans would be happy living under a theocracy, but I'm also aware that many think they would. That would only occur, of course, if that theocracy would happen to agree with the doctrine that they hold to be the correct one.
In the meantime, separation of church and state works for me. I hope that doesn't change anytime soon.
You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.