Federal Judge Barbara Crabb recalled an inconvenient truth with her ruling that the National Day of Prayer, which was established by Congress in 1952 and is celbrated this May 6, is unconstitutional.
Specifically, the judge for the Western District of Wisconsin determined that the prayer law “violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
But the broader message is really about the spirit of the Constitution.
Though it is too seldom acknowledged by contemporary politicians and jurists — including members of the Obama administration, who have joined fundamentalist conservatives in griping about Crabb’s ruling — the initiators of the American experiment were keenly aware of the dangers associated with the imposition by civil government of religious tests, requirements and calendars.
Men of the Enlightenment who had rejected the cruel construct of a “divine right of kings” and waged a revolution against a colonial empire that claimed its imperial reach was sanctioned by God, they knew the folly of mixing religion and politics.
And they were explicit in their determination that the United States must not go the way of the old monarchies of Europe, where state religions, state prayers and attendant rules and regulations served as the apparatus for constraining popular discourse, dissent and diverse expressions of faith.
So they established a Constitution that left no doubt of their determination that the United States would not dictate which religion was superior or inferior, or require an expression of faith as a qualification for citizenship.
They were explicit in this regard, weaving into the initial outline of the American experiment a blunt rejection of any “religious test.”
“The senators and representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” reads Article VI, section 3, of the U.S. Constitution.
In case anyone missed the point, when the Constitution was amended to include a Bill of Rights, written into the first of the amendments were two specific declarations: