Washington, May 6, 2010 -
Today is the National Day of Prayer. It's the day of the year that is proclaimed that we honor how prayer and how religion has affected our culture as a Nation. Every day, in this very House, we start with a prayer. Down the hallway in the United States Senate, every day, the U.S. Senate starts with a prayer. And then we have the Pledge of Allegiance. The Supreme Court has ruled that it is constitutional for us, the Senate, and all State legislatures, to start every day with a prayer. And so it is throughout the country.
We have the National Day of Prayer today, but it has a long history of establishment here in the United States, where we recognize this very important day. Many Congresses and Presidents have proclaimed days of prayer and fasting throughout our Nation's history. From Washington all the way to Madison and all the way through World War II, Presidents set aside days of national prayer.
In 1952, 58 years ago, a bill proclaiming an annual National Day of Prayer was unanimously passed by the House and the Senate and signed into law by President Truman. It's not often in our history that everything passes this House and the Senate by unanimous consent. The new law required the President to select a day for national prayer every year. In 1988, the day was fixed by Congress as the first Thursday in May of each year. That law was signed by President Ronald Reagan.
Nobody is forced to pray on the National Day of Prayer. However, we now have a Federal judge who has ruled that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional, even though this day is set aside to honor God and the role that prayer has played throughout our history. Thanksgiving was set aside by President George Washington to honor the Almighty and to give prayer and thanksgiving for our history and for the work that the Lord plays in our very existence.
Most people are surprised to learn the United States Capitol, this building, was the place where church services were held for a number of years. In fact, before Congress even started assembling here, we had church services before then. But yet a National Day of Prayer has been ruled by a Federal judge to be unconstitutional.
Here's what the First Amendment says, Madam Speaker. It says: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
The First Amendment was written by James Madison, the author of the U.S. Constitution. In fact, he is the author of the first ten amendments. James Madison set in stone, proclaimed, Congress will make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
Probably, James Madison knew more about the First Amendment than anybody else since he was the author; yet, in 1813, President Madison proclaimed a National Day of Prayer. It's ironic that the author of the First Amendment, who knew more about the First Amendment than anybody else, certainly Federal judges who live today, proclaimed the National Day of Prayer, and yet today, we have a Federal judge saying it's unconstitutional based upon the First Amendment. How ironic. Federal judges obviously--this particular Federal judge--forgot about the free exercise of religion part. That's why the National Day of Prayer is so important.
The Federal Government sets aside one day a year that honors the First Amendment. People may pray. They don't have to pray. But it recognizes how important prayer is in our culture. It enshrines in the public consciousness the fact that Americans have the right to the free exercise of religious beliefs.
"In God We Trust," Madam Speaker, is above the American flag behind you. It is the national motto of the United States: In God We Trust. Ours is not a secular Nation. It was founded on religious principles.
So I asked this Federal judge, What's next? Are you going to try to abolish Thanksgiving and Christmas as national holidays?
Madam Speaker, the National Day of Prayer is not only a good idea, it is constitutionally legal, whether secular, antireligious Federal judges like it or not.
And that's just the way it is.