The National Day of Prayer and the doctrine of “tolerable acknowledgment” (Part 1)

An old joke fits here: what do you call the person who graduated last in his law school class? A lawyer.

Sometimes you call them a judge.

This is from the Washington Times yesterday:

A federal judge in Wisconsin ruled on Thursday that the country’s National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional because it calls on citizens to take part in religious activity.

Senior U.S. District Court Judge Barbara B. Crabb said the statute that created the National Day of Prayer violates the Constitution’s prohibition against the government establishment of religion…

The judge’s ruling came in a lawsuit originally filed in 2008 by the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. The atheist, agnostic and nontheist group said Thursday they were surprised and disappointed that the president intended to issue the proclamation.

Speaking of jokes, I can’t believe the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is still being taken seriously. They’ve been wasting everyone’s time for decades with their very superficial treatment of just about everything.

Any serious reading of the Founding era causes you to bump into the religious sensibilities of that age. From letters, to public acts, to the “endowed by their Creator” in the Declaration, to the First Amendment guarantee of religious liberties, it must be painful for the FFRF folks to study history.

My guess is that they don’t read history. Instead, they look for ways to push their secular religion. They’ve brought their brand of time wasting to Illinois, too. In 1985 the General Assembly authorized the conversion of a room in the state capitol building into a room for meditation and prayer.

This was done in keeping with the tradition of the United States Congress, who in 1953 set apart of room to be used primarily by members of that body who wished to withdraw and seek divine guidance. The prayer room in the U.S. Capitol, near the Rotunda, was authorized by the 83rd Congress and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Illinois House Resolution 408 was challenged in 1986 by the FFRF that claimed the statute was an act of establishing religion by the State of Illinois.

That challenge was in large part a dispute between the “Freedom from Religion” folks and Founding Fathers, the 1st and 83rd Congresses, as well as the Illinois General Assembly. It came down to the difference between an acknowledgement of the belief in a God and the establishment of a state church.

At times the Supreme Court decision created a muddled path for lower courts to follow. But through a careful analysis of the historical and legal tradition in this nation, it becomes obvious that the Illinois General Assembly’s 1985 resolution promoted prayer and mediation no more than the President of the United States promotes Christianity when he raises his right hand, and places his left hand on the Bible and takes the Oath of Office.

As early as 1940 Justice John W. Davis was warning that “our friend stare decisis” was beginning to wane in health. Precedent of both law and history has since taken a back seat to those who belittle the words and actions of the Framers of the U.S. Constitution.

But it is important when determining the meaning of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause to observe the words and actions of the Framers – as well as – the actions of elected officials in this country for the past 234 years – all 234 years.

The Founders who wrote the First Amendment knew from experience what it was to have a state religion. The Church of England, for example, was the only legal church in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Church attendance was mandatory, and disobedience to that law would cost a pound of tobacco as penalty.

Fines were also stipulated for things such as failing to have your child baptized. The clergy of the Church of England had controls over their congregations that parallel that of many local policy powers today.

From 1643, only Anglican ministers ordained by an English bishop could conduct worship services. Early in the 18th century, settlers from other religious denominations migrated to Virginia. They faced persecution as law breakers – which, because of the state established church – they were.

By 1771, the First Toleration Bill was passed in Virginia, and in 1786, the Virginia Declaration of Religious Freedom was enacted through the efforts of James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and through the brave actions of Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, and others.

The statute included these words:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

It was on this foundation that the First Amendment was laid.

Up next: Part 2.