Tomorrow is the National Day of Prayer (NDP), an exercise in government-sponsored piety that never made much sense and is well past retirement age.
Like so many examples of “civil religion” – such as “In God We Trust” on money and “under God” slipped into the Pledge of Allegiance – the National Day of Prayer traces its origins to the 1950s and America’s epic struggle with “godless communism.” The NDP was created by Congress in 1952 and used to float around the calendar. After a lobbying campaign led by Religious Right groups, the NDP was codified by Congress in 1988 as the first Thursday in May.
I outlined Americans United’s objections to official prayer days last year and won’t rehash all of that again. The short answer is that Americans don’t need the government to tell them when, where, how or even whether to pray. Decisions like that are best left to the individual as guided by his or her conscience.
Aside from the natural ick factor of being pressured to pray, AU’s biggest concern for tomorrow is that President Donald Trump, who loves nothing more than to appear before the Religious Right and pose as a paragon of personal piety, will use the NDP to take some action that assails the church-state wall.
We’ve heard scuttlebutt in D.C. that Trump might use the NDP to announce the release of a long-anticipated final rule under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that will allow health care workers broad latitude to deny services to people who offend their religious beliefs. As media outlets have noted, it’s members of the LGBTQ community who are likely to take the biggest hit here, although plenty of others will face discrimination too.
There’s also been talk about the administration releasing an interim rule that would especially harm the transgender community. When President Barack Obama was in office, his administration finalized regulations that bar sex discrimination in the health care setting. Groups that want to cite religion as a justification to discriminate against women and LGBTQ people sued, and a federal court prevented the rule from going into effect. The Trump administration is rewriting the rule in a way that observers believe will try to weaken, if not obliterate, the existing nondiscrimination protections.
Americans United will be keeping a close eye on developments tomorrow. If Trump uses the NDP to announce new policies that allow discrimination in the name of religion, we won’t waste any time announcing our opposition and preparing a strategy to stop him.
(Photo: White House observance of the National Day of Prayer, 2017)