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Judge Finds National Day of Prayer Unconstitutional

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on April 16, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Yesterday, a Wisconsin federal court judge issued a decision finding the National Day of Prayer to be unconstitutional. Handing down her opinion in the suit brought by the Madison, Wisconsin based Freedom From Religion Foundation, Judge Barbara Crabb held the day to be a government call for religious action, an action she found to be prohibited by the constitutional requirement of separation of church and state.

According to the Associated Press, Congress first established the National Day of Prayer in 1952 and in 1988, the first Thursday in May was set aside as the day for presidents to issue proclamations asking Americans to pray. The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed their suit to halt the day of prayer in 2008.

The judge's ruling does not prohibit the continuation of the prayer day until the appeals process has been exhausted, so President Obama will issue his proclamation of the Day of Prayer in 2010 as he did last year. The administration had defended the law, arguing the proclamation and day of prayer simply acknowledged the role of religion in the United States.

The AP reports that Judge Crabb's ruling however, finds the law unconstitutional because it makes an actual call for religious action, which the judge says violates the constitution. "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," Crabb wrote. "In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience."

The American Center for Law and Justice, who were defendants along with the federal government, announced their intention to appeal. The Department of Justice has told the AP they are reviewing the judge's decision and had no further comment at the time.

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