Thursday, May 06, 2010

National Day of Prayer

On my way to work yesterday morning, I heard this story on NPR about a federal judge in Wisconsin who struck down the statute that called for the national day of prayer. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is pretty happy about that. The National Day of Prayer Task Force isn’t.

As a Christian I am, of course, in favor of prayer. But I find that both sides have a very poor understanding of history when it comes to freedom of religion. And I’m appalled at the religious side’s argument.

Sweden has a state church. They are also amongst the most atheist of countries on the planet. Henry VIII created the state church in England. The land from which the Pilgrims fled. He did this in part because he was not enamored of the power that Roman Catholicism had in the world.  And that’s to say nothing of national Islam and the problems that causes in the world. Even the Bible documents what state religion was like for the early Christians in Rome.

The marriage of religion and state is a terrible thing. And the founding fathers knew this despite their being, by in large, Christians. They recalled the reasons that the Pilgrims fled England and settled in the colonies, and knew that the separation of state and church was the best way to allow for religious freedom. And that this was the best way to preserve the Christian church (and all faiths). Separation of church and state prevented politicians from using the power of their office to persecute faiths they disagreed with. Imagine a Catholic got elected to President and made an executive order making Protestant churches illegal! Imagine a Muslim were to get elected and declared Islam the state religion – something that many Muslims believe is the call of all Muslims – to create an Islamic nation.

The separation of church and state is no small thing. And when Christians call for the state to execute its power and call for a national day of prayer, they do a great injustice to the thing that preserves their right to worship as they feel fit. They make it easier for the next guy to come in and take another step towards their own persecution.

Ironically, if I were an atheist, and were interested in converting others to atheism, I’d want to find some religion and install it as the state religion. My goal would be to generate the level of apathy about spiritual issues that exists in Sweden. Of course, I couldn’t go as far as the marriage of state religions like in Iran or Afghanistan. But something timid and boring and irrelevant as the state religion is what I’d install. Then I’d fund it just enough to crowd out private alternatives. And viola, a Swedish style atheist state.

So I find it incredibly ironic that the atheist in the story – the member of the group called Freedom *From* Religion Foundation is doing protecting freedom *of* religion, by insisting that the state have no power to promote any religion. And that it is the person in favor of the national day of prayer who does not see the threat that it imposes on religious freedom.

As a human being and as a Christian, there is very little that I fear more than the power that we’ve given to the government. I do not want them holding power to dictate religious practices, even if that means there’s no national day of prayer.

Michael Calhoun, the spokesman for the National Day of Prayer Task Force, said, “No longer will an atheist in Wisconsin undermine a tradition for millions of Americans who simply want to pray for their nation.” To which I say that those same Americans are free to pray for their nation. But that freedom is eroded, if only a little bit, by having a national day of prayer.

How should this be handled? Church leaders should call on their congregations to pray. Individuals should call on their friends to pray. We do not need or want the state executing this power.