Court rules NDP is constitutional, but
government declaration of NDP isn't
Constitutionality of the NDP legislation:
The National Day of Prayer religious observances are legally protected under the free exercise of religion clause of the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Any individuals, congregations, or any other group can hold meetings to advocate prayer.
However, the constitutionality of the federal legislation that creates the NDP as a government sponsored observance is in doubt.
As we described in a separate essay, there are at least seven grounds under which it might be argued that legislation by the federal government, or a state or municipal government to create a National Day of Prayer (NDP) might be declared unconstitutional. In each case, the basis for declaring the legislation unconstitutional is the establishment clause of the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Literally interpreted, this clause merely states that the country shall have no official religion. As interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, it means that a wall of separation shall exist between the government and religion.
On 2010-APR-15 a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the federal enabling legislation for the NDP was unconstitutional. That is, the right of individuals and groups to hold a NDP is very securely protected by the U.S. Constitution. The free exercise clause of the same amendment guarantees that. It is only the declaration of the NDP by the federal government that was found to be unconstitutional.
Without the government declaration sponsoring the National Day of Prayer, its official status is not like that of Martin Luther King Jr. Day; it is more like National Cookie Day: a privately organized observance without government sponsorship or recognition.
Over the years, organization of the NDP has been taken over by a non-governmental para-church group, the National Day of Prayer Task Force which has very strong ties to the fundamentalist Christian group Focus on the Family. They only recognize divisive NDP observances in which non-evangelicals and non-Christians are excluded from the podium. They continue to be quite free to continue the NDP on 2010-MAY-06 and on future first Thursdays in May. Similarly, other groups continue to be free to organize inclusive observations that contribute to religious harmony by welcoming Christians from all wings of the religion, and include followers of other religions. However, if the District Court's decision is upheld in the expected appeal, the Task Force will not have government sponsorship for the NDP.