Some want National Day of Prayer ended

Published 3:35 pm Thursday, May 6, 2010


The Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. — Advocates for the separation of church and state rallied Thursday in support of a federal judge’s ruling that found the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.

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Outside the Wisconsin Capitol, about 50 members and supporters of the Freedom From Religion Foundation said they hoped Thursday would mark the final National Day of Prayer, which has been celebrated since 1952.

“Let’s call the whole thing off!” foundation co-president Dan Barker told the crowd during the peaceful protest. “No more day of prayer!”

Barker and others praised U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, who ruled in a lawsuit brought by the foundation last month that the law that created the prayer day was an unconstitutional call to religious action. Instead of a moment of silence found at many prayer events, the protesters had a “moment of bedlam” in which they cheered loudly for Crabb’s decision.

Some Christian groups have sharply criticized Crabb’s April 15 ruling. Critics have written her office to warn she is going to hell, to ask her to resign and to call her a Marxist, a moron and worse.

Crabb put enforcement of her ruling on hold while the Obama administration appeals, and prayer events went on as scheduled across the nation Thursday. President Barack Obama issued a proclamation urging citizens to pray or give thanks, and numerous mayors and governors followed suit.

The crowd erupted in applause when foundation employee Scott Colson read passages from the ruling, including her conclusion that government can no more encourage citizens to pray than to “fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge or practice rune magic.”

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, 83-year-old Madison resident Paul Gaylor, described himself as a “rock hard atheist.” He said he feels discriminated against on the National Day of Prayer.

Despite the ruling, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle said he decided to follow the tradition this year by issuing a prayer day proclamation like he has annually since taking office in 2003.

“We’ve sort of maintained the status quo here,” Doyle said.

But Doyle, who was announcing where a new high speed rail line would stop in the capital city, departed with a joke: “You should all pray for a nice, new station here in Madison.”