Does a National Day of Prayer violate the Establishment Clause? Based on my blog series these past few days, I hope you know that the answer is a resounding NO! Whose religion is being established here? Even though there are a lot of Christians participating in this event, it is a non-coercive event in which people of all faiths partake. Just to re-iterate that last part, 1) the government is not forcing you to pray, and 2) this is for people of all religious backgrounds, not just Christians.
Leaving constitutionality out of this for a moment, prayer is something more than just a Christian practice. Prayer is a universal expression of man's angst and desire to connect to a higher, transcendent being, whether that would be Hashem, Buddha, Allah, Jesus, or Mother Nature. Short of your extreme nihlists, this is a yearning that every human has. I find that the universality of prayer is precisely why there should be a National Day of Prayer. Every American, regardless of belief, can come together in a pluralistic environment to pray. The statement that is being made is that in spite of difference in religious background, we are all human and we desire prayer.
I will end this blog post with a quote from Obama's 2009 National Day of Prayer proclamation. And I don't do so because I think he's a wonderful president (obviously!), but because he's a great orator, and in this instance, he's correct:
"Let us also use this day to come together in a moment of peace and goodwill. Our world grows smaller by the day, and our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife; and to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. As we observe this day of prayer, we remember the one law that binds all great religions together: the Golden Rule, and its call to love one another; to understand one another; and to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth."
And let us say Amen!
6/28 Addendum: The text of the law itself states the following:
The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to G-d in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.
I am not bothered by the bit where it mentions G-d. The technicality by which I am bothered, which was pointed out by a lawyer I know, is "at churches." Keeping in mind that this was written in 1952, the only way to be a "good American" was to be a "faithful Christian." The fact that you go to church to pray, rather than a house of worship, makes the law as written a violation of the Establishment Clause. However, if they were to modify the law to make it more inclusive, I would find no Constitutional violation.