It's not often I follow the lead of a hate-spouting, flame-snorting rightwing ding-a-ling, but today will be an exception. Over the weekend, U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb ruled, quite rightly in my view, that a "National Day of Payer" serves no secular purpose and unconstitutionally harnesses the power of the state to call on citizens to engage in the religious ritual of prayer.
This has, predictably, uncorked yet another volcano of rage from the right. For instance, I give you the Rev. David Stokes (hmmm ... Is that a a proper noun or an active verb?). "The mind fairly boggles," writes Rev. Stokes, "at the arrogant absurdity of a court in this land ruling the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional."
Okay, I'm sure the Rev. has a well reasoned argument to back up that assertion. Let's give him a hearing.
Point One: He despises the people who filed the suit: "the radical anti-theist group (read: atheists on steroids), 'Freedom From Religion.'" (And, indeed, shouldn't the justice of a cause always be judged by how we feel about the person bringing the case?)
Point Two: He admires President George W. Bush. "I know it's fashionable these days to bash Bush, blaming the man and his administration for all the ills our current leaders find to be overwhelming and resistant to their heady scheme-dreams, but our 43rd president is a man of passionate faith."
Point Three: President George W. Bush admires him. They admire each other. "I had the privilege the other day of receiving a nice note from Mr. Bush. He had received a copy of my new book."
Point Four: (We are getting back to prayer, I promise you.) President George W. Bush appreciated Rev. Stokes putting in a good word or two with The Man Upstairs. "'During our time in the White House,'" Stokes quotes GWB as writing," 'Laura and I were ... sustained by your prayers and encouragement.'"
Here, the argument runs, which has been gelling so nicely, into a little difficulty. It seems that Rev. Stokes had been praying for President Bush without congressional authorization. "Certainly, I understand that he (Bush) was talking about personal prayers, not necessarily public ones, and that there is nothing in the current court ruling banning private prayer. Duh. I get that." (Oh, okay then. On with the argument.)
Point Five: Obama is a Marxist Muslim and worse. "I would appeal to President Barack Hussein Obama today, to reach back beyond his Muslim, Marxist, and Liberation Theology (which is to real Christianity as anthrax is to sugar) roots and try to connect with his 'inner-Lincoln.'" (How can you be a Marxist Muslim Liberation Theologist? Doesn't that mean being an atheist Allah-worshiping Catholic? I know Obama's a smart guy, but can even he manage that hat-trick of deviousness?)
Point Six: In 1863 Lincoln (who, by the way, was about as religious as Obama), declared a kind of super-duper Day of Prayer. "As the Civil War raged, Mr. Lincoln proclaimed a National Day of Prayer--only he didn't quite call it that. It was actually called, are you ready for this? 'A Day of National Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer.' Now, that would make any liberal 'living-constitution' judge's head spin all the way around today, don't you think?" (Amen to that. You'd have to call in the Congressional Exorcist to cure her.)
And there you have it. I don't usually succumb to appeals to authority, but in this case I so admire Lincoln that I'm ready to give it a whirl. Surely, reasonable people -- that is, people who are ready to tune out the hate talk for a few minutes and think for themselves -- can agree on the following: You don't need an act of Congress to get Americans to pray. You should not use government to coerce people into being religious. (Especially not if you think religion is important: look at how well state-sponsored Christianity has fared in Europe.) Last but not least, it would be great if we could all come together in unity and aspiration for better times on at least one day a year.
Let's face it: we are a nation united by certain mostly secular ideas: that governments rule by the consent of the governed, that freedom to pursue happiness is a fundamental principle of society, and that all people have certain inalienable rights endowed by their Creator (yes, that's a religious insertion, but one with some latitude for interpretation -- as the Deist Jefferson would have been the first to say).
Let's also face this: Most Americans are Christian. Most, but not all. And among Christians there is a wide diversity of views. Simply imposing a "National Day of Prayer" over this diversity is not a step toward unity, but a step back into another "wedge issue." Suppose, instead, we adapt President Lincoln's wisdom to our times. How about a "National Day of Humility"? For those who find prayer the best expression of humility, let it be so. For those who achieve humility through quiet contemplation, or unanswered acts of kindness, or reaching out to one's enemies, or simply a reflection on one's one shortcomings and limitations, let it be so. In short, through humility, let freedom ring. Thank you, Rev. Stokes, for the suggestion.