The National Day of Prayer, an event chaired by James Dobson’s wife, Shirley, happens every year. And every year, President Obama has issued an official proclamation for the event. But the Dobsons are none too happy that he isn’t showing up in person:
We do have different congressmen, Congressman [Randy] Forbes has been a great ally and Congressman [Robert] Aderholt, they participate themselves and we never have a problem at that observance. This year our honorary chairperson is going to be Greg Laurie and he’s going to be giving the main message, Chaplain Barry Black who is the chaplain of the Senate is going to be participating and Chaplain Wannick from the Pentagon is coming over to participate and of course congressman [Frank] Wolf will stand in for the legislature.
We have somebody for every branch but Janet unfortunately we’ve never had anybody come over from the executive branch. Every year we call the White House, we ask how the President wants to celebrate the National Day of Prayer and we appreciate that he does give a proclamation every year and they’ve been good with proclamations proclaiming a day of prayer in our nation, but the answer comes back ‘well the President has decided to pray silently or pray alone’ or there’s always some excuse. So we’ll say, ‘can somebody from his Cabinet come over and represent the executive branch so we can pray for them and pray for the President,’ and they’ve never sent anybody from the executive branch. We pray for them; we have somebody there that stands in the gab. But it really is so sad that they have all these other special interest groups in the White House but the Christians are not represented.
As Right Wing Watch points out, maybe it has something to do with the fact that Dobson openly prayed for Obama’s defeat in both elections? I wouldn’t show up either. Of course, I wouldn’t issue any such declarations. I agree with what Thomas Jefferson said about such proclamations in a letter to the Rev. Samuel Miller:
I consider the government of the U S. as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises…
But it is only proposed that I should recommend, not prescribe a day of fasting & prayer. That is, that I should indirectly assume to the U.S. an authority over religious exercises which the Constitution has directly precluded them from. It must be meant too that this recommendation is to carry some authority, and to be sanctioned by some penalty on those who disregard it; not indeed of fine and imprisonment, but of some degree of proscription perhaps in public opinion. And does the change in the nature of the penalty make the recommendation the less a law of conduct for those to whom it is directed? I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct it’s exercises, it’s discipline, or it’s doctrines; nor of the religious societies that the general government should be invested with the power of effecting any uniformity of time or matter among them. Fasting & prayer are religious exercises. The enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises, & the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands, where the constitution has deposited it.
I am aware that the practice of my predecessors may be quoted. But I have ever believed that the example of state executives led to the assumption of that authority by the general government, without due examination, which would have discovered that what might be a right in a state government, was a violation of that right when assumed by another. Be this as it may, every one must act according to the dictates of his own reason, & mine tells me that civil powers alone have been given to the President of the U S. and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.
James Madison, who more than anyone else was responsible for the First Amendment and the whole Bill of Rights, agreed in his Detached Memoranda:
Religious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings & fasts are shoots from the same root with the legislative acts reviewed.
Altho’ recommendations only, they imply a religious agency, making no part of the trust delegated to political rulers.
The objections to them are 1. that Govts ought not to interpose in relation to those subject to their authority but in cases where they can do it with effect. An advisory Govt is a contradiction in terms. 2. The members of a Govt as such can in no sense, be regarded as possessing an advisory trust from their Constituents in their religious capacities. They cannot form an ecclesiastical Assembly, Convocation, Council, or Synod, and as such issue decrees or injunctions addressed to the faith or the Consciences of the people. In their individual capacities, as distinct from their official station, they might unite in recommendations of any sort whatever, in the same manner as any other individuals might do. But then their recommendations ought to express the true character from which they emanate. 3. They seem to imply and certainly nourish the erronious idea of a national religion. The idea just as it related to the Jewish nation under a theocracy, having been improperly adopted by so many nations which have embraced Xnity, is too apt to lurk in the bosoms even of Americans, who in general are aware of the distinction between religious & political societies. The idea also of a union of all to form one nation under one Govt in acts of devotion to the God of all is an imposing idea.
The entire practice of such proclamations should be ended.