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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Day of Prayer unconstitutional, unwise

By Vickie Sandell Stangl

In violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the government will once again embrace and promote religion Thursday with a National Day of Prayer.

This bad idea began in 1952 when the Rev. Billy Graham wanted to bring "the Lord Jesus Christ" to the nation via a federal statute. This law specifies: "The president shall set aside and proclaim a suitable day each year ... on which the people of the U.S. may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals."

It is not the business of government to authorize prayer. It may be popular for a politician to say "God bless America" or personally believe prayer is important, but it is quite another thing for government to allow ministers and organizations to promote their religious doctrines by legal statute declaring a National Day of Prayer for Americans.

The people of America may turn to God in prayer any hour or day of the year. The real motive behind the National Day of Prayer is obvious: to advance the evangelical agenda that America is a Christian nation and all other beliefs or ideas are wrong.

In 1988, the government became even more entangled with this law by fixing an actual date for the National Day of Prayer as the first Thursday in May. The religious right wanted a date its members could organize around. Since 1989, Focus on the Family has written presidential proclamations and prayers that presidents and other public officials have used, and stated that the National Day of Prayer was "specifically limited to the Judeo-Christian heritage." All of these instances clearly reveal our government is cozying up to one faith and allowing that faith to promote itself on the national scene as the one true faith of America.

Religion and government combined together is a prescription for intolerance and violence. President Obama should defend the Constitution by upholding the First Amendment's prohibition that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

The National Day of Prayer is unnecessary, unconstitutional and unwise, and should be discarded as a dangerous sectarian tool of the religious right.

Vickie Sandell Stangl of Wichita is president of the Great Plains Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

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