The First Amendment’s separation of Church and State was created in order to avoid the inequality inherent in government intrusion into private decisions about religion. When government takes sides in disagreements about religion, bad things start to take place: Religious discrimination, religious wars, religious torture, religious execution. These aren’t just theoretical possibilities. They’re all a part of the history of the American colonies against which the founders of the United States of America were reacting.
The First Amendment to the Constitution sets a very clear standard that forbids religious government activities: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”. Given that laws passed by Congress fund everything that the government does, the amendment means that the government cannot participate in religious activities.
Of course, the federal government has a history of engaging in religious activities anyway. The reason is plain: Crass political advantage. For much of American history, religious groups have been dominant in society, and their votes have been earned by politicians who pander to their pride. Politicians have learned that they can gain lots of campaign money and grassroots organization facilitated by churches if they go along with efforts to create government religious ceremonies that elevate particular beliefs above others. Religious groups have been happy to become cogs in political machines in return for big government endorsements. Thus, when government and religion are mixed, both government and religion become corrupted.
Of course, the fact that these violations of the Constitution have become prevalent and popular tools for politicians doesn’t make them any less violations of the Constitution. That’s what U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled today about one particular platform for the corrupt mixing of Church and State: The National Day of Prayer.
The National Day of Prayer was created as a governmental event in response to the passage of a law by Congress recommending the establishment of the official government religious holiday. The law, Public Law 100-307, was passed in 1988, after an effort begun by pro-segregation Senator Strom Thurmond.
Such passage by Congress of a law to create a religious holiday is in itself clearly unconstitutional. However, the National Day of Prayer goes further. Rather than merely promoting religion in general, the government event promotes a particular form of religious ritual, and promotes particular forms of religion over other forms of religion.
President Barack Obama has not yet issued an official Presidential Proclamation establishing the National Day of Prayer this year, although the White House has indicated that such a proclamation will soon be issued, without regard to today’s ruling. An examination of Obama’s National Day of Prayer last year makes it clear, however, that the government holy day is conducted only for the benefit of certain religious traditions – those religions that involve prayer to the particular deity known as “God”. The Proclamation particularly urged religious worship of God – not Allah, not Vishnu, nor any goddess or other deity but the Jewish/Christian “God”.
“I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 7, 2009, as a National Day of Prayer. I call upon Americans to pray in thanksgiving for our freedoms and blessings and to ask for God’s continued guidance, grace, and protection for this land that we love.”
This government establishment of religion excludes large number of Americans. According to the latest American Religious Identification Survey, only 70 percent of the American population report a belief in the deity “God”. The percentage of Americans who choose to live without religion is between 13 and 15 percent.
Tea Party protesters have been making a lot of noise about the threat of socialism. They say that they’re worried about the government intruding into Americans’ private decisions. Yet, when it comes to the case of the National Day of Prayer, Tea Party organizations have been remarkably silent. The federal government has unconstitutionally moved toward creating a state religion, a clear form of socialism. However, it seems that religious socialism is something that Tea Party activists are more than happy to accept.