By JewsOnFirst.org, April 20, 2010
A federal judge in Wisconsin has ruled that the congressionally mandated National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional because it involves a government endorsement of religion. In her ruling, issued on April 15th in a lawsuit against President Barack Obama and the National Day of Prayer Task Force, headed by Shirley Dobson, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara B. Crabb wrote that the law establishing the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer "does not use prayer to further a secular purpose; it endorses prayer for its own sake."
Crabb's ruling (in the unlikely event that it is not appealed) will end the annual presidential proclamations of the national day that the law requires. Under previous presidents, Dobson's Task Force used those proclamations to enhance the perception that the Task Force was an official government operation. As JewsOnFirst.org's campaign for an Inclusive National Day of Prayer has documented, Dobson's Task Force strictly limits participation in its events to certain evangelical Christians. Judge Crabb dismissed the case against Dobson (pictured here) in March, but the transcript of Dobson's deposition, provide a detailed description of the Task Force's practices, most notably its use of public officials and government buildings for its events.
Controversy generated by groups like the Task Force
In her ruling, Judge Crabb noted that "much of the controversy" over the National Day of Prayer "has been generated by events of private organizations such as the National Day of Prayer Task Force. However," continued Judge Crabb, "government officials, including former Presidents, have sometimes aligned themselves so closely with those exclusionary groups that it becomes difficult to tell the difference between the government's message and that of the private group."
In a brief, Justice Department lawyers defending President Obama (and the day of prayer statute) against the lawsuit, brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, distinguished Obama's handling of the day from his predecessors. They noted that last year the president had declined quote the Task Force's "theme" in his proclamation, despite the Task Force's request that he do so. Last year JewsOnFirst joined the Interfaith Alliance in asking President Obama to issue a single proclamation that was inclusive and not delivered directly to the Task Force. The President issued a single, inclusive proclamation that was not posted until the afternoon of May 7th. "Accordingly," states the brief, "President Obama's proclamation was not used at all during the Cannon House Office Building ceremony, by the NDP Task Force's coordinators."
Documents in the case (08-cv-588-bbc) originally filed as Freedom from Religion Foundation v. President Barack Obama, White House Press Secretary Robert L. Gibbs, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, and Shirley Dobson, Chairman Of The National Day Of Prayer Task Force; Doyle and Dobson were subsequently dismissed from the case.