Q: Did the Pentagon do the right thing by disinviting evangelist Franklin Graham from a National Day of Prayer event next week? Should government officials decide who can or cannot speak at such an event? Should the government proclaim a National Day of Prayer? Was a federal judge right to rule it unconstitutional?
America’s National Day of Prayer raises important questions about the role of religion in public life and how our various faiths can unite individual citizens and organized groups of widely differing beliefs.
To measure the worthiness of a National Day of Prayer, let ‘s take a look at one of the most important and worthy organizations in the world. I speak of one that succeeds tremendously at bringing people together from all walks of life in gratitude to a higher force in the Universe, to achieve the seemingly insurmountable. I refer to Alcoholics Anonymous. Untold numbers of people and their families have been saved by this organization through its simple dictates and its rootedness in divine supplication. Though the 12 Steps require a devotion to some form of
God, there are no shortage of atheists who join the program while defining that word in their own personal way. AA is non-racial, non-religious and respects no difference in age, class, gender or orientation. In other words, this highly spiritual movement is thoroughly American.
Of course, we Americans are not all alcoholics, but we all have problems that seem larger than our ability to fight. We all need help, we all need each other, and AA provides the model and proves the importance of a National Day of Prayer. Its process unites and elevates people through faith and fellowship at times that science and medicine have failed.
If there were a truly National Day of Prayer which involved schools or government institutions, some Jews, for example, might object to standing with those beseeching Jesus and Allah. I am confident, however that shared prayer will cause people to look into their own faith more intensely. Moreover, this country needs to be more honest about what individual religions teach and how those teachings can be exploited by fundamentalists, so that the rest of us can marginalize the radicals of every faith. A National Day of Prayer will help create a consensus of what we Americans consider healthy religion, and the leaders of any faith whose God teaches love and mercy should be welcome to lead a service which reaches out to every American; even those who strive for goodness without theistic belief.
The recent ruling of a National Day of Prayer as unconstitutional speaks, incorrectly I believe, to the great American tradition of separating Church and State and protecting dissent. It is an overreaction as long as the Day of Prayer is rooted in and represented by the tolerate and moderate beliefs of all the major religions.
America has always been a religious country. As long as it says “In G-d we trust” on our dollar bill, we may as well talk to him.