Does a National Day of Prayer Violate the Constitution?
The American Atheists organization thinks so, especially with this year's emphasis on prayer at schools
Allen warns that under the First Amendment, government -- and elected officials -- should remain neutral when it comes to activities like the Day of Prayer, March for Jesus or similar events.
"Many of these activities focus on the city hall or the state capitol building. Public officials should avoid involvement with these religious groups and show their respect for everyone's beliefs and nonbelief by keeping their positions neutral."
Allen encourages Atheists to speak out against such constitutional violations, and emphasize the principle of church-state separation.
"There are 350,000 mosques and temples and churches in this country, and the groups behind National Day of Prayer still aren't satisfied," declares Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists.
"It's all about being seen praying in public," said Johnson. "Even the gospel of St. Matthew says that Christians should go into a closet and shut the door when they pray. Shirley Dobson and the other organizers of National Day of Prayer should read their own Bible."
Johnson called upon atheists to monitor their local and state NDOP events, and urged public officials to refrain from issuing proclamations or edicts encouraging the populace to join in.
Are the NDOP events constitutional?
Americans are guaranteed freedom of assembly, which includes activities or celebrations of a religious nature. Separationists, though, say that the National Day of Prayer should not be funded by public monies, and many argue that elected officials have no business issuing proclamations which endorse the event. Courts remain divided and vague about the former practice.
NDOP is more than just a private religious event, too. The political overtones became obvious last year when Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura became the first national leader to refuse an endorsement of the Day of Prayer activity.
"I believe in the separation of church and state," Ventura declared. "We all have our religious beliefs. There are people out there who are atheists, who don't believe at all. They are all citizens of Minnesota and I have to respect that."
This year's Day of Prayer activities may go the extra mile, though, in violating the separation of church and state. The National Day of Prayer Task Force and other groups supporting the May 4 activity are making a special effort to encourage prayer at school flagpoles, along with the usual battery of prayer breakfasts, Bible reading marathons, prayer rallies and other activities. Students are being encouraged to wear special "P.R.A.Y. Bracelets" (Praise, Repent, Ask, Yield). Separationists need to make sure that teachers, administrators and other public school officials do not endorse the National Day of Prayer event, or penalize students who choose not to participate.
"They've already tried to turn the city hall into a church," declares Ellen Johnson. "Now, they are using the National Day of Prayer to brainwash youngsters and encourage religious conformity in the public schools."