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The National Day of Prayer: Encouraging Christian Supremacists Since 1952

Thursday, May 5, 2011

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by Shaker Jadelyn, linguist, witch, feminist, pacifist, progressive, activist, writer, queer, gamer, musician, exile, lover, and superhero, in no particular order.

[Trigger warning for Christian supremacy.]

Today, May 5th, is the National Day of Prayer here in the U.S. By law, enacted by Congress in 1952 (and amended in 1988 to fix the date on the first Thursday in May every year), the President is required to issue a proclamation declaring a national day of prayer. Obama's proclamation for this year can be found here. The main organization promoting the NDoP, and which organizes the vast majority of NDoP events throughout the country, is the National Day of Prayer Task Force (NDoPTF) chaired by none other than Shirley Dobson, the wife of James Dobson, founders of Focus on Your Own Damn Family, a nationally-known fundie Christian org. Which kind of makes it hard to believe that the NDoP is not a sectarian act of government-sanctioned proselytism, as its backers insist. When the main organization organizing events for a government-sanctioned observance is a fundamentalist Christian organization, and the events themselves are themed around a quotation from Christian scripture, well. Suffice to say the quacking is getting awfully loud, despite protestations that it is not, in fact, a duck.

The theme NDOoPTF has chosen for this year is "A Mighty Fortress is Our God", taken from Psalm 91:2, which reads: "I will say to the Lord, my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust." They make the usual noise about the terrible state America is in - which, I agree with them, but I rather suspect our reasons for that belief wildly diverge - and have even given us the thoughtful gift of an absolutely terribad promo video.


[Video Description at end of post.]

It's the music that really makes it, y'know? A day of prayer – which, in many traditions is a quiet, meditative reflection on and connection with one's deity – is totes the same as an actiony disaster movie, amirite? Well, perhaps if you consider the NDoP to be a disaster. *rimshot*

But whatever happened to the ruling from last year, wherein a judge in Wisconsin found the requirement of a NDoP to be unconstitutional? If the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional, why is it still being celebrated? Why has Obama issued the 2011 proclamation (aside from his terrible predilection for pandering to people who will never vote for him)?

Unfortunately, the 7th Circuit overturned the ruling on appeal last month. They ruled that, since the law requiring declaration of the NDoP each year only directly affects the President (by requiring hir to issue the proclamation), only the President has suffered sufficient injury from the statute to challenge it. Thus, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has no standing to challenge the NDoP. The decision, which was 3-0, declared:
Plaintiffs contend that they are injured because they feel excluded, or made unwelcome, when the President asks them to engage in a religious observance that is contrary to their own principles.... [However] offense at the behavior of the government, and a desire to have public officials comply with (plaintiffs’ view of) the Constitution, differs from a legal injury. The "psychological consequence presumably produced by observation of conduct with which one disagrees" is not an "injury" for the purpose of standing.
The concurring opinion defended the decision by saying SCOTUS hasn't defined "injury" in the context of Establishment Clause cases well enough yet to give FFRF and other non-religious (or religious but Constitutionally-inclined) citizens standing based on "psychological injury" resulting from the blatant Othering of non-belief a Presidentially-declared Day of Prayer foments.

And so we have it that, in 20-fucking-11, President Obama – the only President to ever consistently include the phrase "believers and non-believers" in his speeches, yet who attempted to have FFRF's case against the NDoP thrown out before the initial ruling was given – has issued the yearly National Day of Prayer proclamation asking "...all people of faith to join me in asking God for guidance, mercy, and protection for our Nation."

FFRF has said they will seek en banc rehearing (review by the full court, not just the 3-judge panel). Welp. I know what I'm praying for today, then. And it's sure as fuck not "asking God for guidance, mercy, and protection for our Nation." If it comes to a contest between God as interpreted by Christian Dominionists and "the forces of hell" as represented by those who would see the Constitution's Establishment Clause respected, well. I'm gonna have to side with the forces of hell on this one.

[Crossposted at Witch Words.]

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[Video Description: Calm but faintly ominous-sounding instrumental music over a montage of "heartland" shots: a farmhouse, a windmill over waving grain fields, a white one-room-schoolhouse style church, with the sky above all these showing gathering roiling clouds oddly lit from within. Panning across a carefully-planned-to-look-multicultural group of people (black guy, Asian woman, white child, but with all older white people in the background pews) sitting in a church pew with blank but attentive faces. Cuts to a black man standing at the pulpit of the church, gesturing and reading from the Bible. A shadow falls over his face and he looks up as if startled. The music suddenly shifts to full-on ominous disaster-movie-trailer and cuts to a dark cloudy background with all-caps text in gold reading "What if we didn't respond to the call to prayer?" The cloudy background flickers with reddish lightning. Cuts to wide shot of grassy plain with a single run-down-looking old house to one side, the sky increasingly full of those weirdly-lit boiling clouds. Then to a white teenaged girl sitting on her bed, picking up a Bible from the bed beside her as if going to read from it. She looks up consideringly, the room darkens suddenly and she looks worried. She gets up and walks to the narrow window in the room. This whole time, the music is sounding like it's been ripped straight from a 90's disaster movie trailer. She looks out at the weird, tumultuous clouds. Cut back to cloudy background with all-caps gold text: "What if we forgot the God of our fathers?" More reddish lightning. Cut to a Latino-looking young teenaged boy sitting on a couch with a Wiimote in hand as if playing a video game. The room darkens suddenly. He looks up, gets up and goes to the window to look at more weird clouds. Back to cloudy background and all-caps gold text: "What if we didn't care?" The music is really getting into it, adding wordless female chorus voices in descant over the throbbing drumbeat. This would be the part where the plane is plummeting in flames, or the earthquake opens a jagged canyon in the earth and people start falling in, in the trailer the music probably came from. Cuts back to the Latino boy, going to a table and picking up a Bible. Then to the white teen girl, opening her Bible. The music abruptly stops as she looks down, and it shows the page she's opened to in Psalms. Psalm 91 is shown up-close, then the page gets all weird and blurry and streams of light seem to be coming out from behind verse 2 "I will say to the Lord, my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.", obscuring everything else. The music fades in again on a single-note crescendo until it bursts back into full disaster-movie glory and the video cuts to a blue sky with passing clouds and some odd dissolve-text effects resolving to read "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" in white. Cut to the one-room-schoolhouse church interior, pews cleared and a semicircle of white people kneeling on the wood floor with black guy and Asian woman strategically positioned off to one side. The two teens enter and go to the empty space in the center and both kneel, clasping their hands in their laps and bowing their heads with everyone else. Scene pans across the room of kneeling people, and we see that the Latino teen, black guy and Asian woman were the only non-white people there. Cuts to the Capitol building, backlit by those dark roiling lightning-filled clouds. Then the Golden Gate Bridge, looking inward toward the Bay, also topped by those weird clouds. Fades to the kneeling teens, then immediately fades to the outside of the white church, where a hole slowly opens in the dark clouds, seeming filled with white light. Quick fade to a white family kneeling in prayer inside the church, then to a steeple with beams of white light breaking up the dark cloud behind it. The Golden Gate Bridge again with those beams of light starting to break through the clouds. Cuts to a time-lapse shot of some city on a body of water at dusk, clouds streaming over the sky and lights coming on along the shore, with white text reading, "He Created the Heavens." Text dissolves, image fades to a time-lapse shot of a mountain peak covered in snow with white text reading, "He Set the Mountains in Place". Cuts to a shot of an older white man who looks suspiciously like Dubya, face upraised in either a serious prayerful expression or an expression of constipation (it's kind of hard to tell. Can't the religious reich afford decent actors?), and hands clasped before his face, light shining on him. Text beside him reads, "There is Hope...In Prayer!" He bows his head, text dissolves. Cut to a loltastic created shot involving the Capitol, the White House, and the Jefferson Memorial all side-by-side and sort of layered over each other where they overlap, a pair of disembodied hands reaching up from the bottom of the frame and slowly grasping each other in interlocked-fingers-prayer-position, while an American flag with no apparent means of support waves from the left side of the frame, and lightning flickers across a strip of dark clouds above the Representing Washington DC building mashup. Text falls into place reading "Join With Millions in Prayer", then the NDoPTF logo reverse-dissolves into place below that, superimposed over the mashup. The music comes to a dramatic climax, cuts off for a dramatic moment, then comes slamming back as the screen goes black and "05.05.2011" written in glowy disaster-movie font zooms in, then flashes to "www.NationalDayofPrayer.org" backlit by a lens flare. The music finishes with a dramatic flourish and the whole thing fades to black.  Fin.]
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