WASHINGTON — About two dozen members of Congress on Wednesday condemned a federal judge’s ruling that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional, saying prayer has long been part of the country’s history.
“The American people believe in prayer. The American people believe that prayer changes things,” said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., as he urged the Obama administration use “all means at its disposal” to challenge the court’s decision.
Several of the lawmakers also called on the Justice Department to appeal the ruling.
A federal judge in Wisconsin ruled last week that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional because it amounts to a call for religious action. The judge did not bar any observances until all appeals are exhausted.
Congress established the day in 1952 and in 1988 set the first Thursday in May as the day for presidential proclamations asking Americans to pray.
Matt Lehrich, a spokesman for President Barack Obama, said Wednesday the president still plans to issue that proclamation.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis.-based group of atheists and agnostics, filed a lawsuit against the federal government in 2008 arguing the day violated the separation of church and state. The administration has countered that it simply acknowledges the role of religion in the United States.
In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote that the government can no more enact laws supporting a day of prayer than it can encourage citizens to fast during Ramadan, attend a synagogue or practice magic.
Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., said the proclamation doesn’t force anyone to pray.