Separation of church and state appropriate

Story by Rob Hanson

So maybe I’m not a model U.S. citizen. I always get Memorial Day and Labor Day mixed up, and I probably couldn’t tell you when any National (fill in topic here) Day is. I don’t really know many other people who could, either. But for some people, days designated to a specific cause or person by the federal government are a big deal.

Such a big deal that a lawsuit from the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation led to a Wisconsin court ruling that National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional. Such a big deal that the Obama administration announced Thursday it will challenge that decision in the U.S. 7th Court of Appeals in Chicago.

Judge Barbara Crabb’s decision that National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional and calls for religious action is spot on. National Prayer Day is a blatant disregard for the separation of church and state and Obama’s decision to challenge the ruling may be even more puzzling than the fact that it took 58 years for someone to challenge the prayer day proclamation.

However, the National Prayer Day issue raises more questions – at least for me – about the constitutionality … or even the point of national days of whatever.

The first question to ask is why a group like Freedom From Religion would be so up in arms about encouraging people to pray. It’s not a law. No one in that group has to pray on any day if they don’t want to, just like they don’t have honor a veteran on Veteran’s Day if they don’t want to and they don’t have to plant a tree on earth if they don’t want to. Hell, they can cut down a tree on earth day if they want to.

But the answer to that is national identity. Much like our government represents each and every one of us when it declares war on another country, it represents our supposed ideals when it says “We as Americans recognize this day as a day to pray.”

It seems stupid, but think of the stereotypes of Americans. Some of those perceptions come from our lifestyle, but a lot of it comes from foreign person’s perceptions of the people who run our government, a created image, supposed ideals that don’t – and can’t – represent us as individuals. Thus, when our government sets aside a day for prayer it is basically proclaiming the U.S. as a nation of Christians, on that day at least.

When you look at it like that, it’s understandable that those who are agnostic or atheistic are offended. It’s understandable that people who have spent their lives – obviously dealing with society as an extreme minority – would be upset that they are lumped in with the sheep, right?

While in some circumstances a day set aside for, say, a historical event such as the signing of the Constitution, may be appropriate in the sense that it keeps the idea of freedom and national pride alive, our government should never proclaim over our vast country a day to celebrate anything race, sex or religion oriented, etc. No matter how you look at it, someone is being discriminated against on days of ‘national’ interest as long as it is designated to only a certain faction of America. When an outsider thinks of Americans, or even when an American thinks of Americans, they should be thinking of individualism. A country where anybody can be anything they want; the land of supreme freedom. Obviously this isn’t exactly the case, but it conjures up a nice image, doesn’t it?

Although I could care less if there’s a National Day of Prayer, either way, I would like to think that just because I live in this country doesn’t mean I’m going to be portrayed as someone I’m not. Besides, what really is the point of angering so many people over such a bleak tribute to a potentially worthy cause? Even if you declare tomorrow National UW-Eau Claire Day, only the people who have any vested interest in UW-Eau Claire will celebrate it. Just like only those who really care for the advancement of breast cancer research are going to turn out for a breast cancer awareness event and only those environmentalists are going to pick up a park on Earth Day. The only people who actually even think about these events are the people who live it. A racist isn’t going to recognize Martin Luther King Day, and in fact, probably only someone who truly believes in equality all year long is going to celebrate it. Those people don’t need a day. They don’t need to be stamped on the cover of a newspaper as the leader of a movement. They just want to live in a free, diverse, democratic country every day.