If there is not a special niche in the "Serial Silliness Hall of Fame" for U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb for her ruling the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, those curators are asleep at the switch.
In writing that the government cannot enact laws supporting a day of prayer "because the nature of prayer is so personal ... and so powerful an effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual's decision whether and when to pray," she crossed the threshold between common sense and humbug.
The "National Day of Prayer" no more uses the government's authority to order or coerce one to pray than does the Jan. 15, "National Hat Day," force us to cover our heads, nor does the April 2 "National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day" or June 17's "National Eat your Vegetables Day" require the consumption of those particular victuals Nor does Nov. 15's "National Philanthropy Day" presuppose that we all donate to charity. My personal favorite is the designation of January as "National Oatmeal Month."
Admittedly, the above paragraph is somewhat tongue-in-cheek as those "holidays" have no official standing; however, as is the case with "National Prayer Day," there is no penalty for nonobservance. One may also decide against participating in Veterans Day, Flag Day or Independence Day without fear of punishment. It would appear also that Judge Crabb elected discretion as the better part of valor — she could have included Christmas in her ruling as it is also a national holiday with definite Christian origins.
Giving the judge the benefit of the doubt, one may assume her intent was to force legal debate on a thorny issue inasmuch as she wrote that her ruling should not be a bar to prayer days until all appeals are exhausted. Nevertheless, the 2008 lawsuit filed by Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group of Wisconsin-based atheists and agnostics, claiming the prayer day violates the Constitution's separation of church and state provision is the epitome of frivolous litigation.
The clause “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” is clear, and regardless of popular misconception, the words "separation of church and state," "God"and "church" appear nowhere in the Constitution. That Congress shall make no law means exactly what it says — no more, no less and does not require a lawyer, a constitutional scholar nor a PHD’s interpretation. It states, unequivocally, that Congress is prohibited from establishing a national religious denomination — simply that Congress may not require Americans to be Catholic, Anglican, Baptist or any other religious denomination.
Only a zealot or one with a specific axe to grind could assert with a straight face that a national day of prayer, a nativity scene on a courthouse lawn, a nondenominational prayer at a football game or commencement exercise, or the lighting of a National Christmas Tree at the White House is establishment of a religion. This nation survived a revolution, a civil war, a depression and two world wars before this ugly intolerance of religion was raised by skeptics and misanthropes.
A nation formed largely with religious freedom and tolerance in mind, we welcome Christians, Jews, Muslims and many other religions and sects, as well atheists and agnostics. In each of these faiths or nonfaiths, there are extremists — the lunatic fringe of the "Christian" Rev. Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church has counterparts among Muslims, Jews, Pagans and nonbelievers.
To those who fear imposition of a theocratic government, I would ask from what church or religious domination does your anxiety emanate? The last time I studied history, the crusades and the various inquisitions were long gone, and as for today, the churches and religious denominations have far too much on their plates in organizing and governing themselves to plot state control.
This continued bickering over the intent and meaning of separation of church and state is mindless and unreasonable among people presumed to be civilized. As a nation based on freedom and tolerance, is it not absurd to take seriously the notion that anyone would honestly be offended by the display of faith by another? Those who fall in that narrow-minded, bigoted category surely are but an infinitesimal part of society.
Although we as the tolerant must also tolerate the intolerant, we should not allow them to make the rules.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.