A federal district court in Wisconsin has declared the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, less than a month away from the 59th annual observance.
In a 66-page opinion issued Thursday, April 15, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb said the holiday violates the separation of church and state.
"It's because the nature of prayer is so personal and can have such a powerful effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual's decision whether and when to pray," Crabb wrote.
A lawsuit was originally filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, challenging the federal law that gives the president authority to designate the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer.
Group members claimed they felt "excluded, disenfranchised and deeply insulted" by the day because they don't believe in God or prayer.
"It's unfortunate that this court failed to understand that a day set aside for prayer for the country represents a time-honored tradition that embraces the First Amendment, not violates it," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, which worked on the case.
Click play for an update with CBN News Washington Correspondent John Jessup, as well as more reaction to the case from Jordan Sekulow of the ACLJ.
Judge Crabb, appointed by former President Carter, called the day of prayer "an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function."
But those who support the National Day of Prayer say the ruling goes against America's faithful heritage.
"This is discrimination against the very roots and foundation of this nation," said Lou Engle, founder of the Christian movement The Call. "Let's fast, pray and say 'God, from the White House to my house give us a massive revival."
Congress established the National Day of Prayer in 1952 and lawmakers with the Congressional Prayer Caucus promise they'll fight to preserve it. Sekulow said his colleagues plan to file an appeal representing the members of Congress.
"If the appeals court fails to reverse this decision, we're confident the Supreme Court will hear the case," Sekulow said. "And ultimately determine that such proclamations and observances like the National Day of Prayer not only reflect our nation's rich history, but are indeed consistent with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment."
The judge's ruling doesn't bar the event until the c,ase is decided on appeal. The 59th National Day of Prayer is set for May 6.
In a statement to CBN News, the White House said President Obama still plans to recognize the day but will not hold any formal events. Obama did not hold an event last year either.
*Originally published April 16, 2010.
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