Why Do We Need the Government to Tell Us to Pray?

In a post last week about a federal judge in Wisconsin ruling that the congressionally-led National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional, I predicted that conservative Christians would shout that the decision was akin to banning prayer.

Guess what?

The National Day of Prayer’s web site had this to say about it:

The National Day of Prayer belongs to Americans. It is a tradition that dates back to 1775 and it is not for a Judge to take away. We the people called for the day of prayer and for 59 years we have practiced our freedom to gather and pray. This is an attack upon our religious freedoms and it is a sad day in America when an atheist in Wisconsin can undermine this tradition for millions of others who simply wish to join their fellow citizens in praying for their country.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote in her decision, the day “serves no purpose but to encourage a religious exercise, making it difficult for a reasonable observer to see the statute as anything other than a religious endorsement.”

The National Day of Prayer statement also says: “The National Day of Prayer provides an opportunity for all Americans to pray voluntarily according to their own faith—it does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

Of course, this statement forgets that atheists and non-believers, like the members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation that filed the lawsuit, are citizens too and that the Establishment Clause also applies to them. But the words “according to their faith” don’t exactly ring true.

The Minnesota Independent has an interesting story that reveals much about the event’s true purpose:

In recent years, only evangelicals were invited to speak at the event, which is part of Shirley Dobson’s—and Focus on the Family’s—plan for the nationwide events. In fact, Sharon Auldrich, Minnesota coordinator for the National Day of Prayer, was hand-picked by Dobson.

Auldrich said that this year’s event at the Capitol on May 6 will only be “strengthened” by the court decision.

“This ruling will continue the process of refining and drawing out those who believe faith in God is vital and will encourage them to stand strong on Biblical principles,” she said. “We are commanded to pray for our country and those in authority.”

She added, “God uses for good what the enemy has planned to use to destroy.”

She said the court decision will be test for Christians, including President Obama. “What this does is draw a line in the sand, and those who say they believe in God and say they have biblical values will have to step forward and prove it,” said Auldrich. “The request for President Obama to appeal [the decision] is going to be a very interesting test for him.”

Look, nobody is being kept from praying. As the saying goes, just as long as there are algebra tests, there will be prayer in school. Nothing in the decision prevents a person, either by joining together with others or quietly in the privacy of one’s bedroom, from praying to one’s God.

Let’s not forget what Christ had to say about this in Matthew 6:5:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.