May 06, 2010

What's so wrong with a National Day of Prayer?

As the National Day of Prayer nears, a right-winger wrote, 

President John Adams declared May 9, 1798 as "a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer," during which citizens of all faiths were asked to pray "that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it".  What could be so wrong with inviting all faiths to pray for our country?

Nothing, so long as Congress doesn’t pass a law about it because such a law would violate the First Ammendment prohibition that it “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”  Note that the ammendments says, “of religion” and not “of A regligion” as it protects non-believers as well religions and sects from one another.  

Prayer has only a religious and no secular function and declaring it by Congress would favor the religious over the non-religious.  And the text of the law makes it clear that it is a religious observance and nothing more.

Continue reading "What's so wrong with a National Day of Prayer?" »

April 20, 2010

Facebook | Christians Who Want A National Day Of Prayer!

A Facebook Page recently sprang up called "Christians Who Want A National Day Of Prayer!", declaring

The National Day of Prayer is currently under attack by radicals determined to silence any expression of faith.


This issue (that Congress passed a law recognizing a National Day of Prayer and that that law was ruled unconstitutional) isn't that faith should be suppressed, nor that prayer should be repressed, nor even that people shouldn't have a National Day of Prayer. The issue is only that the our government via the US Congress is not allowed to pass a law recognizing a National Day of Prayer since the US Constitution says, quite clearly that they can't:


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

What is puzzling to me is why these folks see the first part of the First Amendment ("shall make no law") as an attack on the second part of the First Amendment (nor "prohibiting the free exercise thereof").  (Some groups disengenuously claim that "prayer" is universal and not tied to any one religion, so it wouldn't apply, but (a) prayer would seem to require belief in a higher power/religion and the First Amendment says "of religion" (ie any and all religions) not "a religion" (some particular religion) and (b) the title of the group says it all: "Christians Who ...".)

Apparently this group defines "radicals" as American patriots that believe in both parts of the First Amendment -- (a) the US government is not in the religion business and (b) we can all follow our hearts without government interference.  

We can have a National Day of Prayer without the US Government getting involved.  What's so awful about that?


April 15, 2010

Federal judge: National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional

Which is more important: upholding the constitution or upholding an unconstitutional tradition?  Sadly, a conundrum for many of today's right-wingers who try to lecture others on the Constitution without themselves understanding the purposes it serves. 

A federal judge in Wisconsin declared Thursday that the US law authorizing a National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional.

US District Judge Barbara Crabb said the federal statute violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on government endorsement of religion.

Crabb said in her view the key test ... is whether the government’s conduct “serves a significant secular purpose and is not a call for religious action on the part of citizens.”

She said the law establishing a National Day of Prayer cannot meet that test. “It goes beyond mere acknowledgment of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context,” the judge wrote.


October 12, 2009

A Case for Empathy | The American Prospect

A Case for Empathy | The American Prospect.
Back in 2007, Barack Obama said that if he got the chance to make a Supreme Court appointment, one of his criteria for a justice would be a capacity for "empathy." Conservatives were predictably outraged. But last week, we got to see what it looks like when a justice is unable to view the world from another's perspective.

[Justice Antonin Scalia ] seemed positively gobsmacked that American Civil Liberties Union attorney Peter Eliasberg would argue that a giant cross is a -- get this -- a Christian symbol....

Scalia apparently thinks that the cross is some kind of universal symbol of death, not a Christian one. "The cross doesn't honor non-Christians who fought in the war?" he asked the ACLU lawyer incredulously. Eliasberg explained that "a cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity," to which Scalia shot back, "It's erected as a war memorial. I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead. It's the -- the cross is the -- is the most common symbol of -- of -- of the resting place of the dead, and it doesn't seem to me -- what would you have them erect? A cross -- some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Moslem half moon and star?"

Eliasberg replied, "The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of Christians. I have been in Jewish cemeteries. There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew." This was greeted with laughter in the courtroom, which no doubt made Scalia's blood boil.

Something tells me those who share Scalia's perspective would feel a little differently about questions like the one raised by the Mojave case if they were outnumbered. For example, healthy majorities of the public have always supported prayer in public schools. But imagine that your typical advocate of school prayer happened to move to, say, Dearborn, Michigan, home of the densest concentration of Muslims in the country (according to the 2000 census, 30 percent of Dearborn residents were of Arab descent; the number is probably higher by now). Then imagine that at the local public elementary school, parents suggested starting each day with a passage from the Koran read over the P.A. system. Our defender of classroom prayer would probably discover a newfound affection for the separation of church and state.

Coming to that realization before you become a minority yourself requires an ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes [-- empathy]. It's seldom an easy thing to do. But some people who never thought they'd have to do so will get the chance before long.

April 03, 2009

Iowa's top court brings gay marriage to America's heartland

Iowa's top court brings gay marriage to America's heartland |

The justices also refuted the state's attempts to show there was a rational basis for preserving the traditional definition of marriage. It shot down every arrow in the quiver of same-sex marriage opponents: maintaining tradition, protecting the interests of children, ensuring procreation, and promoting stability of opposite-sex marriage.

The "best interests of children" is, undeniably, an important governmental objective, the court said. But "the germane analysis does not show how the best interests of children of gay and lesbian parents, who are denied an environment supported by the benefits of marriage under the statute, are served by the ban."

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