National Day of Prayer

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National Day of Prayer

Postby Satya » Sun May 02, 2010 7:32 am

I have a problem with people who have a problem with the National Day of Prayer. The only argument I hear against is "separation of Church and State", a concept not actually defined in the nation's Founding documents... Nor do I see how a day of prayer advocates or governmentally "establishes"/supports a religion. Or is the government supposed to support *non*-religiousness? Because that seems to be the real crux of the argument. The ideal is supposed to be that the "State" doesn't have an official religion or be seen as favoring any religious denomination/sect/etc over any other - not that it refrains from even the most basic of religious behavior - in this case, prayer.

Prayer can be defined as follows: "an act that seeks to activate a volitional connection to some greater power in the universe through deliberate practice. Prayer may be either individual or communal and take place in public or in private. It may involve the use of words, song, or complete silence. When language is used, prayer may take the form of a hymn, incantation, formal creedal statement, or a spontaneous utterance in the praying person. There are different forms of prayer such as petitionary prayer, prayers of supplication, thanksgiving, and worship/praise. Prayer may be directed towards a deity, spirit, deceased person, or lofty idea, for the purpose of worshiping, requesting guidance, requesting assistance, confessing sins or to express one's thoughts and emotions. Thus, people pray for many reasons such as personal benefit or for the sake of others."

Do you see any "establishment" of religion therein? I don't. You don't need to be religious to "pray." You don't need to be Christian, or Muslim, or Jewish, or Hindi, or Buddhist, or Sikh, or Baha'i, or Jain, or Taoist, or Shinto, or whatever. You just need to believe that our nation/world is in dire need, and to take a moment out of your year (just a moment), to put your attention on these issues, to "pray" (however you feel is appropriate) for us to change those things. The NDoP should be a unifying, not divisive, day of reflection.
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Postby human. » Sun May 02, 2010 8:42 am

(I'm copying and pasting from when I responded earlier, and I hope you're okay with that, Satya!)

It's the "activate a volitional connection to some greater power in the universe" that's the problem. Atheists don't believe in a higher power, so a National Day of Prayer would support religion in general instead of subscribing to one religion. It doesn't establish one religion, but it establishes religion in general.

Without that day, people of any religion can still pray. It doesn't impede upon any religion or religious beliefs. Nothing says you can't pray on any certain day. And since you have the power to do so, why do you need a day? True believers, and people devout in their faith will already do what they believe necessary and will pray as seems proper to them. The only thing a National Day of Prayer would do to change anything is it would be like Easter (though obviously not connected with the same importance as Easter is in the Christian faith) and people who only hang onto their faith without living by it would feel better about themselves for praying on the "chosen day," while those devout would have already been praying or if they had felt it necessary, they would have taken whatever day they needed to pray.

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Postby Rei » Sun May 02, 2010 11:27 am

Without that day, people of any religion can still pray. It doesn't impede upon any religion or religious beliefs. Nothing says you can't pray on any certain day. And since you have the power to do so, why do you need a day? True believers, and people devout in their faith will already do what they believe necessary and will pray as seems proper to them.
This is also a rational I've often heard for why we should not have any set holidays: "We should celebrate every day, so why should there be any specific days made to celebrate?" The whole mindset bothers me because it denies the human need to have times and days set apart and elevated for a specific purpose.

That said, I know little about any "National Day of Prayer" and such a notion seems silly to me. I find little to no value in a secular authority establishing such a day, but if it makes some people feel better or if they have devotion to such a thing, I see no harm in it, either.
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Postby jotabe » Sun May 02, 2010 11:51 am

But it isn't an innocent matter. It's not meant to foster unity, it's meant to make easier to spot dissent.

By specifying a "National Day of Prayer", you are subtly saying it's something all good nationals should identify themselves with. It's a devious way to tell people who doesn't pray that they aren't really to be considered good, upstanding citizens of the said nation.

Picture this: In Spain, bullfighting is called the "national event/fiest/celebration" (translation of fiesta is messy). Now consider how it is for a Spaniard who opposes bullfighting. It's hard to feel spanish anymore when they force-choke you with how proud you have to be of bullfighting and how it's heritage and yadda yadda.
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Postby Satya » Sun May 02, 2010 2:14 pm

Atheists don't believe in a higher power
You don't have to believe in a higher power. Prayer doesn't require a higher power. Meditation is considered prayer; I meditate as well as "pray" in the more common conceptualization of the term.
why do you need a day?
Why do we need a "Black History Month"? Why do we need a "Labor Day"/"Memorial Day"/etc.?

such a notion seems silly to me
Well, it is in a way. I don't disagree. I was making the point that it's silly to have a problem with it. I don't mind it though, and I'll take time on that day to observe it. I do the same with Independence Day. We don't "need" it, but why not take some time (if you're American) to celebrate on July 4th?
you are subtly saying it's something all good nationals should identify themselves with.
As opposed to all the other, more pernicious, nationally identifying bullshit people do. :)
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Postby Syphon the Sun » Sun May 02, 2010 3:04 pm

In the words of one of my favorite (living) constitutional scholars:
I find this hard to reconcile with the logic of Marsh v. Chambers (1983), which upheld legislative prayers on the grounds that they go back to the founding of the nation; official proclamations of days of prayer, thanksgiving, and even fasting are just as firmly rooted.
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Postby human. » Sun May 02, 2010 4:43 pm

Atheists don't believe in a higher power
You don't have to believe in a higher power. Prayer doesn't require a higher power. Meditation is considered prayer; I meditate as well as "pray" in the more common conceptualization of the term.
why do you need a day?
Why do we need a "Black History Month"? Why do we need a "Labor Day"/"Memorial Day"/etc.?
For the first, I was going by the definition you gave. For the second, I suppose I should have written "why do you need the government to recognize a day for prayer?" for what I meant. But I agree about your response. I don't know that we do, especially Black History month of those three. I agree that holidays are... good, I guess is the only word I can think to fit it. They can be beneficial to people. But somewhat like Jota said, a National Day of Prayer would make me, personally, feel somewhat disenfranchised because I don't pray. It would feel like you only get a "good citizen" label if you participated in it.

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Postby Mega » Fri May 07, 2010 3:57 pm

Look to the Lemon v. Kurtzman decision.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemon_v._Kurtzman

Does the legislation has a secular purpose? Must be yes
Does the legislation advance or inhibit religion? Must be no
Does the legislation result in an excessive government entanglement with religion? Must be no

This may be an atheist talking, but what would the secular purpose be? Back in the 50s it was to unite the country against those bastard Soviets because we were obviously the only country that any sort of moral god could support*.
The legislation advances religion in most cases. Prayer is a major part of almost all religions so even if non-believers pray, it still advances religion.
It seems to me that it does entangle the government with religion simply because there is a perception of the government supporting it, even if it is real, the perception is there.

What we also have to look at is, even if the day of prayer is technically constitutional, we have to realize that in constitutional law, precedent is almost as important as the document itself. So if religion is even sort of allowed in this instance, it could go crazy.

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Postby Syphon the Sun » Fri May 07, 2010 4:09 pm

You do realize that the Court hasn't relied on the Lemon test in a few decades, right?
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Postby Mega » Fri May 07, 2010 4:11 pm

The judge that ruled National Day of Prayer unconstitutional talked about it quite a bit.

Besides, even if that was the case, it still is the precedent.

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Postby Syphon the Sun » Fri May 07, 2010 5:15 pm

The judge that ruled National Day of Prayer unconstitutional talked about it quite a bit.
Where I say "Court" (note the capital "C"), I mean the Supreme Court of the United States. The judge you're talking about is a district court judge, the lowest ranking judge in the federal court system. Notice has already been given for appeal and I don't expect the Seventh Circuit (my circuit, and home to Circuit Judges Easterbrook and Posner) to affirm.

Even if the Circuit did affirm, however, I'll be shocked if the Supreme Court relies on the Lemon test, as they've largely ignored it when deciding Establishment Clause cases for the past thirty years.
Besides, even if that was the case, it still is the precedent.
It is still a precedent. It is not the only precedent, however, and certainly not controlling. Its precedential value is pretty limited, given that it was specifically abandoned after little more than a decade, has been largely ignored since, and has been criticized in recent years.


On another note:

There is only one case (that I'm aware of) in which the Supreme Court held favor of religion over nonreligion to be unconstitutional: McCreary County v. ACLU (2005).

But here's where it gets interesting: Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy all dissented, disagreeing with the holding and its underlying reasoning. Stevens and Ginsburg supported the holding and its reasoning. Breyer has specifically warned against leading the law to exhibit hostility toward religion and has voted both ways in Establishment Clause cases. Based upon Salazar v. Buono, Roberts seems to support Kennedy's position, Alito seems to support Scalia's, and Sotomayor seems to support Stevens/Ginsburg's.

At a minimum, when this thing reaches the Supreme Court, I can't forsee less than a 5-4 decision upholding the statute: Ginsburg and Sotomayor will vote to strike down. Breyer could go either way, but for sake of argument, I'll posit that he'd vote to strike down. Stevens' replacement will likely conform to the liberal bloc's position and vote to strike down the statute. But Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito will vote to uphold.
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Re: National Day of Prayer

Postby Jebus » Sun May 09, 2010 4:25 pm

I have a problem with people who have a problem with the National Day of Prayer. The only argument I hear against is "separation of Church and State", a concept not actually defined in the nation's Founding documents... Nor do I see how a day of prayer advocates or governmentally "establishes"/supports a religion. Or is the government supposed to support *non*-religiousness? Because that seems to be the real crux of the argument. The ideal is supposed to be that the "State" doesn't have an official religion or be seen as favoring any religious denomination/sect/etc over any other - not that it refrains from even the most basic of religious behavior - in this case, prayer.

Prayer can be defined as follows: "an act that seeks to activate a volitional connection to some greater power in the universe through deliberate practice. Prayer may be either individual or communal and take place in public or in private. It may involve the use of words, song, or complete silence. When language is used, prayer may take the form of a hymn, incantation, formal creedal statement, or a spontaneous utterance in the praying person. There are different forms of prayer such as petitionary prayer, prayers of supplication, thanksgiving, and worship/praise. Prayer may be directed towards a deity, spirit, deceased person, or lofty idea, for the purpose of worshiping, requesting guidance, requesting assistance, confessing sins or to express one's thoughts and emotions. Thus, people pray for many reasons such as personal benefit or for the sake of others."

Do you see any "establishment" of religion therein? I don't. You don't need to be religious to "pray." You don't need to be Christian, or Muslim, or Jewish, or Hindi, or Buddhist, or Sikh, or Baha'i, or Jain, or Taoist, or Shinto, or whatever. You just need to believe that our nation/world is in dire need, and to take a moment out of your year (just a moment), to put your attention on these issues, to "pray" (however you feel is appropriate) for us to change those things. The NDoP should be a unifying, not divisive, day of reflection.
The answer to your question should be obvious. The definition you have cited as prayer is clearly not one that is universally accepted. If it was, then people would not have a problem with government sponsor of it.

You're also being intentionally misleading and ignoring the history of the National Day of Prayer and its obviously religious (especially Christian) connotations.

Would you find as non-objectionable a National Day of Atheism, where Americans would be encouraged to spend the day rejecting God? Being encouraged to pray is to many Atheists the same as being encouraged to reject their own beliefs.

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Postby Satya » Mon May 10, 2010 4:30 am

The definition used was the wikipedia definition.

National Day of Atheism =/= National Day of Prayer. Poor analogy. Atheism = anti-religion/anti-theism. Prayer =/= religion. Not to mention the fact that atheism is a belief in a negative; i.e., there is no 'practice' to observe it. Abstention from belief isn't practicable. Would you prefer the terminology "National Day of Reflection?"
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Postby Jebus » Mon May 10, 2010 5:22 am

As I said; prayer, to many people, is equal to religion. And the only part of your Wikipedia definition which might be applicable to fully atheist people (believing in no greater power at all) is the idea that a prayer can be made to a "lofty idea", and that is really the loosest definition possible of what a prayer is and doesn't apply to the American National Day of Prayer at all.

Here I turn to Wikipedia too, in which the article on the NDoP includes the fact that the House and Senate introduced the day as one "in which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals."

You can be as disingenuous as you like about how loosely prayer can be defined in general, but the above quote states pretty clearly what kind of specific prayer is being defined in the NDoP.

But I don't think the day should be scrapped. There are a large amount of religious people in America who hold prayer to be very important and who should be recognised. But as it is a religious day, it's only fair to have another day which recognises atheists also. But I think naming such a day "National Day of Reflection" would be a bit insulting to believers. ;)

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Postby Syphon the Sun » Mon May 10, 2010 10:34 am

Last year's proclamation:
Throughout our Nation's history, Americans have come together in moments of great challenge and uncertainty to humble themselves in prayer. In 1775, as the Continental Congress began the task of forging a new Nation, colonists were asked to observe a day of quiet humiliation and prayer. Almost a century later, as the flames of the Civil War burned from north to south, President Lincoln and the Congress once again asked the American people to pray as the fate of their Nation hung in the balance.

It is in that spirit of unity and reflection that we once again designate the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer. Let us remember those who came before us, and let us each give thanks for the courage and compassion shown by so many in this country and around the world.

On this day of unity and prayer, let us also honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. We celebrate their commitment to uphold our highest ideals, and we recognize that it is because of them that we continue to live in a Nation where people of all faiths can worship or not worship according to the dictates of their conscience.

Let us also use this day to come together in a moment of peace and goodwill. Our world grows smaller by the day, and our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife; and to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. As we observe this day of prayer, we remember the one law that binds all great religions together: the Golden Rule, and its call to love one another; to understand one another; and to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.
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Postby Jebus » Mon May 10, 2010 11:09 am

Wait for the next Republican president.

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Postby Azarel » Tue May 11, 2010 4:47 am

I think in fact it would fairer to ALL Americans and a greater step toward equality is there was only ONE day called "National Day of Reflection".

People would then be free to either:

- Pray for national priorities
- Pray for Leaders
- Take stock of one's own role/contribution in the country
- Take time to communicate encouragement to one's local Senator/Congressman or other government figure (I'm in the UK so not sure of other levels of government you have in the states.

And the list could obviously go on, but the point being that certainly there is a huge religious population in America and whether the non-religious population is equal or not doesn't matter, why the proposal for such a day in a country as diverse as America can't include everyone I don't know.

There shouldn't be a problem in society with certain separate spaces or people to enjoy the comfort of their sub-groups so long as space is made for those who need/request it.

However, as USA is the land of opportunity, if you don't ask, you probably won't get.


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Postby human. » Tue May 11, 2010 5:32 pm

and whether the non-religious population is equal or not doesn't matter, why the proposal for such a day in a country as diverse as America can't include everyone I don't know.
I feel like if you replaced "non-religious" with "religious" a lot less people would agree with the statement.

A National Day of Reflection still seems religious, at least to me. In Texas, we have a moment of silence for reflection/meditation after the pledges every day in public school, but nearly everyone understands that to mean a moment of silence for prayer. It just seems like a loophole for religious purposes. It also seems unnecessary.

I don't see the need for government sponsored prayer/meditation/reflection. People already do that by their own will. It just seems like a waste of a day or productivity to me. That is, not the praying/meditation/reflection part, but the holiday part. (edit: which reading again, I realized I already said that. So feel free to ignore this last paragraph.)

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Postby Syphon the Sun » Tue May 11, 2010 6:31 pm

Um, you do realize that the National Day of Prayer is not a "holiday," right?
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Postby human. » Wed May 12, 2010 5:25 pm

Oh, no. I wasn't thinking. Sorry.

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Postby Azarel » Thu May 13, 2010 7:14 am

[Original post removed by author for great justice due to lack of knowledge... Carry on]
Last edited by Azarel on Thu May 13, 2010 8:07 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Postby Satya » Thu May 13, 2010 7:34 am

Azariel, you're kind of hurting my point.

First of all, the "Pledge of Allegiance" wasn't written until 1892 - over a hundred years after the founding of the nation. Second - and most importantly - the phrase "under God" was NEVER in the original 1892 version; it was only added in 1954.
The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy (1855-1931), a Baptist minister, a Christian socialist, and the cousin of socialist utopian novelist Edward Bellamy.

Bellamy's original Pledge read as follows:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
I actually hate the Pledge. As a Christian, scripture prohibits one from taking oaths. Though of course, most Christians (as we usually do) ignore such commands or simply fail, either through ignorance or apathy, to follow them. My loyalty is not a thing to be pledged to a state/nation.

And as for the Founding Father's Christian leanings, as a Christian myself I can tell you that they were by no means orthodox (or even all Christian.) They were quite interesting, and far more complex than anyone who spouts "This nation was founded as a Christian nation!!!" They were Deists, Pantheists, Agnostics, Gnostics, Mystics, and yes, even Atheist (though that was still not yet something you could just come out and declare at the time.) The Founding Fathers are not a singular entity that one can point to and say "Ah! They believed this!" Jefferson's infamous `The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth` are proof enough of that.
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Postby Azarel » Thu May 13, 2010 8:06 am

...Then I take back my uninformed response. As since it is uninformed, it is not relevant, thus not harming your point.
That's what I get for making statements instead of asking questions.

...I suppose the key question is: Is a day like this mandatory for all?

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Postby Jebus » Thu May 13, 2010 8:31 am

In what manner do you imagine it could be mandatory?

Thought police do not come and bust down your door if their recording devices in your home have failed to pick up any sign of you praying, if that's what you're asking.

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Postby jotabe » Thu May 13, 2010 10:11 am

It's not about making a holiday or making prayer compulsory for that day. It's something much more subtle: it's telling the people who don't pray: "you are not welcome here, you are not one of us".
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Postby Syphon the Sun » Thu Apr 14, 2011 2:33 pm

Update:

Seventh Circuit reverses.
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