Do We Need a National Day of Prayer -- Day After Thoughts

Last night I participated in the Troy Interfaith Group's annual National Day of Prayer service.  It was a grand affair -- filling the sanctuary and foyer of Troy's First Presbyterian Church.  We had Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Protestants, Baha'is, and maybe more.  We shared songs, readings and prayers.  I read the Golden Rule as it is depicted in a variety of religious traditions, as young people light candles to lift up each of these statements.   Afterward, we broke bread together.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable event.  Interestingly enough this observance came into being because one of the founding members of the group, a Hindu woman, was prevented from participating in an observance held on the grounds of City Hall.  The City Council at the time supported the claims of those who declared this to be a Judeo-Christian event (to which, as I understand it, the local Rabbi said -- leave the Jews out of this).  And so a movement was born, one that seeks to better represent the diversity that is present in our community.

I share this story as a segue into answering the title question.  Do we need a National Day of Prayer?  My initial answer is no.  As a person of faith I don't need the President or Congress to tell me that I need to pray.  My faith tells me to do just that.  On the other hand, it might be appropriate for the government to set aside a day in which prayer might be of value to the nation.  I think that's the sentiment of James Madison (author of the Constitution, by the way).  Brad Hart provided this quote from a letter written by Madison to Edward Livingtone in 1822 in a post at American Creation.

There has been another deviation from the strict principle in the Executive Proclamations of fasts & festivals, so far, at least, as they have spoken the language of injunction, or have lost sight of the equality of all religious sects in the eye of the Constitution. Whilst I was honored with the Executive Trust I found it necessary on more than one occasion to follow the example of predecessors. But I was always careful to make the Proclamations absolutely indiscriminate, and merely recommendatory; or rather mere designations of a day, on which all who thought proper might unite in consecrating it to religious purposes, according to their own faith & forms. In this sense, I presume you reserve to the Govt. a right to appoint particular days for religious worship throughout the State, without any penal sanction enforcing the worship.  (James Madison)
Note that Madison suggests that such a proclamation is appropriate if it is not an injunction and doesn't "lose sight of the equality of all religious sects in the eye of the Constitution."  Now, you might say, did he intend to include Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus?  I don't know what he had in mind.  But my sense is that he would, if alive today, insist that all religious traditions be included in its purview.  My sense is that President Obama's proclamation is in the spirit of Madison's recommendations. 

Do we need a National Day of Prayer?  I'm not sure I can answer that question.  In fact, it's probably not a relevant question.  Constitutionally, precedent and practice suggest that it's not illegal.  But, if we take Madison as our guide, it would seem that the state shouldn't organize such affairs and that they shouldn't penalize for not participating.  I'd take this a step further, in light of the statement about affirming the equality of all sects, it would seem appropriate that any service held on public grounds or with any hint of public sponsorship, should be interfaith and open to all who would come.  If some would like to have a Christian's only event -- fine -- but don't seek government sponsorship.  Have it in your churches.  In reflecting on this event, my greatest concern is not that secularists will push the religious folk out of the public square, but that one group will seek to use its claims to either majority status as a reason for dominating the public square.

As for our TIG service, I think we've come to the point where we wouldn't want to go on to public property for the event.  We've found our niche and it's working!  


Dave Lambert said…
1st Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Also, refer to
Dave, I know the first amendment, but what is the point of the comment?
Gary said…
If there had been the diversity of religion in the thirteen colonies that exists in American now, there would never have been a United States of America. There would never have been a Declaration of Independence, or a Constitution.

America was founded on a Christian philosophy, even though everyone was not personally a believer. Had the founders been Muslim, or Hindu, or Buddhist, or atheist, the country we have had since 1776 would never have happened.

Now, our religious and philosophical "diversity" is ripping apart the country we have known. And I don't think there is a way to save it.
David Mc said…
Our country was founded for freedom and democracy (for some white male property owners in reality...).

We are all supposed to be free to peruse happiness by whatever thing, thought or deed we wish- as long it doesn't deprive others of the same. We all know this.

How could any person or culture who abides by these values take away from these simple ideals?

Americans is still the shining hope. In all its rational glory. Oh, and Gary, you abide by the above values from what I've seen.

If there's a list of nations and/ or systems pleasing to God somewhere, it has to include the US. The reality of its people, their declaration of Independence, and especially the Constitution.
Anonymous said…

It's a mistake, but I shan't change it..
John said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said…
American political institutions are predicated on a balancing of the tensions between the self-interests of its population, now 300,000,000 strong. According to the Federalist Papers (see #10 especially), the success of the American political experiment was designed to be nurtured by the political competition which necessarily grows out of the diversity of its people, their interests, and even their religion.

It is true that the degree of diversity has increased over the years along with the increase in population. From the beginning our national commitment to diversity has been tested in the crucible of political competition, and typically by the needs and demands of the newest groups of immigrants or virtual immigrants - be they Germans, Irish, Catholics, newly freed slaves, American Indians, Italians, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Philippinos, Vietnamese, Asian Indians, Chaldeans, etc.

We need to be as cognizant as the Founders were of the fact that diversity is not a luxury, and was never a luxury of our nation, but a basic component and building block of our political institutions. If we remove this building block or impose limits on it we are not just changing who we are, but we are removing or diminishing the potency of a nutrient which critical to our political health and our national survival.


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