It’s that time of year again. The tea-and-crumpets-and-bigotry crowd is coming out of the proverbial prayer closet tomorrow in an annual effort to create the false impression that America is an officially Evangelical Christian Nation. Everyone else can just pack up and move back to Europe, or Canada, or Rhode Island, or wherever they came from with their wacky ideas of religious plurality and tolerance.
Let me be totally clear about this: If you want to pray, that’s just fine. If you want to cast aside Jesus’ explicit commandments in Matthew 6 and choose to go out in public and make a big spectacle of yourself praying to Jesus, well that’s fine too – I’m not saying you have to make sense. What I am saying is that I find it beyond bizarre that the National Day of Prayer Task Force insists on having a pray-in at the State Capitol and inviting high-ranking state officials to explicitly endorse their evangelical faith.
Think about it: Tomorrow we will have public officials preaching piety on public property in the shadow of the seat of state government. Yes, it is constitutionally protected free speech, but what possible purpose can such hypocrisy serve other than to create the impression that anyone who does not sign up to the Lausanne Covenant should be considered second-class citizens with less than full access to the participatory political process and privileges of citizenship? If you can think of even one legitimate reason for ignoring explicit Christian doctrine along with the longstanding American ideal of keeping the state out of the church, please do let me know.
The question of whether we should have national days of religious observance was definitively settled quite some time ago, when it was directly and forcefully addressed by the author of the Declaration of Independence:
“I consider the government of the US. as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises. … I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct its exercises, its discipline, or its doctrines; nor of the religious societies that the general government should be invested with the power of effecting any uniformity of time or matter among them. … Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and right can never be safer than in their hands, where the Constitution has deposited it.” – Thomas Jefferson, to Reverend Samuel Miller, 23 January 1808.