President Obama made the right decision to appeal the ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, which held that the statute establishing the National Day of Prayer violates the Establishment Clause and is therefore unconstitutional.
In so doing, the judge substituted her opinion for 135 calls to prayer by presidents of the United States, the actions of virtually every Congress that has been in existence both before and after the Constitution was written, and the actions of all 50 state legislatures. Her decision is a part of the continuing assault on America’s religious heritage. America’s Judeo-Christian principles are so interwoven in a tapestry of freedom and liberty, that to begin to unravel one is to unravel the other.
Our Founding Fathers spoke eloquently not only about their personal belief in God, but also about how our nascent nation was called to a higher purpose by God. Out of respect for that purposeful birth, the first act of the U.S. Congress was to appoint a minister to lead the legislators in prayer. And, in deep and abiding faith, Presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama have called upon God for his protection, mercy, and guidance.
These acts are instructive; they show how deep America’s religious roots run. The Declaration could not have been clearer: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights….”
The freedoms and liberties that we enjoy are granted by God. They are not man-made, nor government-granted. Man or State may shackle us, may separate us from our freedom; but ultimately, we will reclaim what is rightfully ours. Government’s purpose is to preserve man’s rights and when government treads on those rights, it breaks a sacred covenant. Then, as the Declaration states, it is the people’s “right, it is their duty” to reclaim what God has given.
Judge Crabb acknowledged America’s religious heritage; but she dismissed it. She would not even grant that the National Day of Prayer was an act of “ceremonial deism,” a Supreme Court construct that states that rote repetition of religious phrases are more ceremonial than meaningful and therefore not in violation of the Constitution.
She would have been well-advised to read a recent decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. In a stunning judicial victory this March, American school children won the right to recite the Pledge in its entirety. What made this victory so stunning was not that the courts permitted use of this phrase in this daily educational ritual. Courts had done so before. It was not even that this time the court in question was the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – notorious for its liberal activism from the bench.
What made this victory so extraordinary was the court’s reason for affirming the right to say “under God” in the Pledge. In past cases, the courts had granted this right because they said the phrase had been so robotically applied throughout the years that it was devoid of religious meaning. This time, in this case, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the right to say “under God” precisely because of their meaning.
Borrowing the argument presented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the court stated that those two words are chock-full of meaning, a bountiful statement of American history and philosophy, and that is why they can and should be a part of our nation’s pledge. As the Becket Fund stated in its brief, “It is uncontestable that since even before the Declaration of Independence, it has been an important part of our national ethos that we have inalienable rights that the State cannot take away, because the source of those inalienable rights is an authority higher than the State.”
The religious underpinnings of our nation are not evident simply because the Founding Fathers wrote about their belief in God – although there is more than ample evidence of their own faith. Our nation’s essence is that rights belong to the individual, not the collective; that our rights are God-given and not simply granted by the government; that our rights are inalienable. And that is all the proof needed to say America is truly one nation under God.
Our Founding Fathers knew the best way to preserve our God-given rights was not to restrict the entrance to the marketplace of ideas, but rather to keep it wider. They did not want faith and religion to control or dominate that marketplace, but they realized faith and religion must have a seat at the table.