National Day of Prayer ban has serious implications

Who do you thank at Thanksgiving?

That's not an idle question and it concerns the news of the day.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb in Wisconsin has ruled the National Day of Prayer that Congress established 58 years ago amounts to a call for religious action and should be banned.

According to The Associated Press, Crabb said in her ruling that the government can no more enact laws supporting a day of prayer than it can encourage citizens to fast during Ramadan, attend a synagogue or practice magic.

The judge stayed her order until appeals can be sorted out.

There will be one, for sure.

President Obama's administration already has filed an appeal through the Department of Justice, even as dozens of members of Congress look to pass a law making the National Day of Prayer legal in case appeals fail.

"The American people believe in prayer. The American people believe that prayer changes things," the AP quoted Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind.

Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., told AP the National Day of Prayer proclamation doesn't force anyone to pray.

"It's an opportunity for us to do what we've done historically, what our historic underpinnings are and understanding the precedent that has been set," he said.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, introduced a resolutioncalling the day constitutional and "a fitting acknowledgment of our nation's religious history."

It comes down to the separation of church and state, naturally.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madison, Wis., a group of atheists and agnostics, filed the lawsuit in 2008, arguing that the day violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The Obama administration has countered that the statute simply acknowledges the role of religion in the United States.

The president says he will proclaim the National Day of Prayer, as scheduled, for May 6.

Crabb agreed with the plaintiffs that the day has the state calling for religious action.

We'd guess the overwhelming majority of Americans share our objection to the ruling. Setting aside a day of prayer doesn't threaten our First Amendment rights. It's not as if the government mandates prayer, it merely calls for it.

Americans are free to ignore the president's proclamation without consequence.

No specific prayer is suggested.

Nor any deity.

If appeals fail, the National Day of Prayer will go away.

Which brings us back to our original question.

Who do we thank when we have Thanksgiving?

It's not a big leap.

Unlike the National Day of Prayer, Thanksgiving is a national holiday.

Federal employees have the day off. Most people in the country either get the day off or holiday pay -- except for whoever is cooking the turkey.

But if this ruling stands, it seems likely it will be followed by someone filing suit against Thanksgiving on the theory that it could be interpreted as the government telling people to thank God for their blessings.

That seems more than a little extreme, but it is a natural extension of this misguided ruling.