Should we be one nation under God?

National Day of Prayer fuels debate over church/state issue
By: Brad Smith The Press Tribune
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It’s the National Day of Prayer and the government wants you to pray. For some Americans, it is not a big issue. For some people like Geneva Easley, 88, celebrating the National Day of Prayer on Thursday was very important. “I’m a Christian and this country was founded upon Christian principles,” the Roseville resident said. “I feel that it’s very important that people embrace God and pray to him.” For other people, the National Day of Prayer can be viewed as government’s endorsement of religion. “It goes against many things that the founding fathers stood for,” said Johnnie Terry, a Sierra College professor. “Particularly such things as separation of church and state.” On April 15, a federal judge in Wisconsin named Barbara Crabb ruled the National Day of Prayer as being unconstitutional as “an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function.” In her ruling, Crabb acknowledged the benefits of prayer but also remained wary of government endorsement of religious activities. Crabb stayed her ruling. On April 30, President Obama issued a proclamation recognizing May 6 as the National Day of Prayer, urging Americans of all faiths to take part in the event. With the government endorsing a National Day of Prayer, the country has been on the slippery slope for some time now, said Terry, a humanities professor. Terry is also an adviser to the Freethinkers of Sierra, students who embrace secular humanism and atheism. “(Thomas) Jefferson and James Madison were vocal opponents to such a thing,” Terry said. “In 1817, Madison wrote such actions would ‘imply and certainly nourish the erroneous idea of a national religion.’” Easley, who has worked with area Christian churches to hold prayer rallies at the Rock of Roseville church for the last three years, felt the United States would be better off if religion — the Christian religion — was more prevalent. “Without God and his guidance, we’re lost as a country,” she said. “We’ve turned our backs on God and he’s turned his back on us. Through prayer, we can ask God for his forgiveness and he’ll put us back on the right track.” But there’s another question surrounding the National Day of Prayer: Which religion takes top billing? The Rock of Roseville’s Senior Pastor Francis Anfuso said Thursday’s National Day of Prayer rally was intended for Christians, but people of all religions were invited to participate. “At the end of the program, we have a ‘rapid-fire’ prayer session,” Anfuso said. “Each person has 15 to 20 seconds to say a quick prayer. Should someone want to say something — well, we’re not going to walk down the line and ask folks if they’re Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist. But, this is primarily a Christian event. People of other faiths can have their own events.” During the rally, people took turns at a microphone between musical sets, offering prayers as more than a hundred men, women and children filled the Rock of Roseville’s green lawn. Sandi Molash, who attends the Bayside Roseville church, was one of those who stood on the green grass and prayed. “This is a great day for community,” she said. “It’s good for all of us to come here and share our love for God and prayer to him.” Molash thought it would be nice to see other religious groups take part in the event. “I’m a Christian and, yes, this is a Christian event,” she said. “But it might be interesting to hear what others have to say.” Earlier Thursday, the South Placer County National Day of Prayer breakfast was held at William Jessup University. John Allard oversaw the event. “We’re very inclusive,” he said. “Our breakfast event is open to all religious faiths — after all, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists ... all of us believe in something and all of us pray.” Allard said that was the reason for the National Day of Prayer. “All of us, no matter what our beliefs are, coming together to pray for our great nation is what this day is about,” he said. “I think being able to do that is something wonderful.” Terry said that he was aware of certain religious groups who were attempting to make the National Day of Prayer just for their religion. “Which if you think about it, goes against everything this country was truly built upon,” he said. During the Rock at Roseville prayer rally, attendee John Vacarro said a prayer for the government, from local officials all the way up to the president. He prayed for “wicked” politicians to realize their actions and change their ways and for more righteous politicians to take a stronger stand and do what God told them to do. Vacarro also prayed that God would take dominion over the United States. “I don’t believe in the separation of church and state,” Vacarro said afterward. “It’s not in the Constitution. We need God back in our country, back in our government.” Allard said President Obama’s inaugural speech was a good example of the relationship between faith and country. “He talked about how our religious diversity including Christians to even non-believers made this a stronger country, a better country,” Allard said. “On a day like today, those words ring true.” Terry also lauded Obama’s speech. “I thought it was great to have a president reaching out to many beliefs, not just one,” he said. “The president was open, tolerant and welcoming. It was the most Christian thing I’ve heard any president say in years.” Brad Smith can be reached at ---------- History of National Day of Prayer • On July 20, 1775, the Continental Congress issued a proclamation suggesting a “day of publick humiliation, fasting and prayer.” • During the period of undeclared hostilities and military actions between the nascent United States of America and France — now known as the Quasi-War — President John Adams proclaimed May 9, 1798 as a day of “solemn humiliation, fasting and prayer.” • Abraham Lincoln issued a prayer proclamation in 1863 and Franklin D. Roosevelt would lead prayers during his radio broadcasts. • Evangelist Billy Graham lobbied for a national day of prayer in the early 1950s. On April 17, 1952, President Harry S. Truman signed a bill in which a day of prayer would be declared by a president at a date of his choice. • In 1988, the law was amended so the National Day of Prayer would be held on the first Thursday in May. • On April 15, 2010 a federal judge in Wisconsin named Barbara Crabb ruled the National Day of Prayer as being unconstitutional as an “an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function.”