Sometimes, I wonder about the legal expertise of so-called "legal experts." Last Thursday, US District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional. It seems that a law calling on Americans to engage in a religious activity is a promotion of religion and, as such, is a violation of the First Amendment. In a saner world, you'd have to agree with her. But we don't live in a saner world. We live in a world where any excuse to freak out is a good excuse to freak out -- and, in this Great Freaking Out, to make incredibly stupid statements.
Take this reporting from Christian News Service:
"If the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional, then the Constitution itself if unconstitutional," Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel and dean of the Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va., told CNSNews.com.
"The National Day of Prayer -- or prayer itself -- is older than the Constitution," Staver said. "There is no question (this ruling) will be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court."
This Supreme Court? He's probably right, if it gets that far. The current majority is hardly unbiased. But "older than the Constution?" The National Day of Prayer was established as law in 1952. There have been other calls to prayer, but not as a recurring legal holiday. The president can ask people to pray -- he has First Amendment rights too -- but the Constitution clearly states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." It's the very first clause of the very first amendment listed in the bill of rights. There doesn't seem to be a lot of ambiguity there.
And even if the Day of Prayer were older than the Constitution, so what? So's the British Monarchy. By Staver's argument, we're legally required to undo the revolution and rejoin the British Empire. I don't think that's going to happen.
Joining Staver in promoting stupid is the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins. He says that Crabb should be impeached, as if every ruling someone doesn't like is an impeachable offense.
"Contrary to her opinion, this ruling does not promote freedom, it crushes it," Perkins said in a statement. "Americans pray voluntarily. And exercising that right together, as a willing nation, is exactly what the Founding Fathers intended."
OK, so it crushes freedom by... doing what, exactly? She didn't say no one could pray. And it's "what the Founding Fathers intended?" Which ones? The ones that lived until 1952? His argument that we're all in this prayer thing together as a "willing nation" is belied by the fact that the Freedom From Religion Foundation brought the suit in the first place. They don't seem very willing to me.
"We call on Congress to start the impeachment proceedings for Barbara Crabb, as she violated her sacred oath of 'administering justice... under the Constitution and laws of the United States,'" Perkins continues. "What she has done to repress, we will use to revive. When the great men and women of our past bent their knees to God on behalf of the 'sacred fire of liberty,' it was often during the nation's darkest days. My friends, it is time we join them."
Repress? Seriously, who is repressing you? You can pray all you want. Perkins' take on this whole thing is just blatantly dishonest. If Crabb's decision holds up, the president will stop issuing an annual proclamation calling on Americans to pray -- he won't issue a proclamation saying you can't pray. If Perkins isn't being dishonest, then he's just being stupid.
Of course, there's plenty more dishonesty and/or stupidity where that came from. As always, the reaction from the religious right is entirely disproportionate to the perceived offense. Here's a series of enlightening questions: What did you do the last time the president declared a National Day of Prayer? Do you remember anything about that day at all? If it hadn't happened, what would have changed in your life? There's no polling on those questions, but if I had to guess, I'd say that "I don't know," "No," and "Probably nothing" would score in the mid- to high nineties.
Then again, none of this is about prayer. Like the mythical ban on prayer in schools -- you can pray all you want, but school staff can't be paid to do it -- it's about scaring the bejeezis out of people who don't do a lot of independent thinking. That's the reason for all the hyperbole about repression and religion under attack. It gets people to open their wallets and it gets them to vote for the candidates who mimic this inanity.
If the decision holds up and the ruling goes into effect next year, I can guarantee that these same people who argue that prayer is being banned will make a big PR stunt of praying on the date on which the proclamation had previously been issued. And, in doing so, they'll prove their own rhetoric wrong. No one will stop them. No one will even try to stop them. They'll be just as free as they were the year before and, even while they exercise this freedom, they'll argue that it's been taken away from them.
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