National Prayer Day is Pointless, Disturbing

Today is National Prayer Day, and the thought makes me cringe. I never knew National Prayer Day existed until recently when I read that a federal judge had dubbed the practice unconstitutional. The ruling is on appeal, and President Barack O’Bama recognized National Prayer Day anyway. Our country, after all, has had this “holiday” for more than 50 years.

I spent the latter half of childhood living in rural Ohio. I was the only Jew – other than my two brothers – in my school system. My opinion stems from memories of ostracism and pain as others tried to push their religion onto me. Do not give others in our country a green light to force religion upon others.

If people want to pray, pray. If religious leaders want to anoint a day of prayer, fine. Even then, why not let religion be practiced where it belongs – in churches, temples, mosques, other houses of worship, and our own homes?

The community where my family moved to when I was in fourth grade was predominantly Christian. Church volunteers taught Bible study in the elementary grades. Clergy ran Easter assemblies. A youth minister wandered my junior high and high school lunchroom recruiting members for his Christian youth group. After basketball practice, some teammates tried to convert me as I gave them a ride home. Many peers questioned what would happen to me when I died since as a Jew, I did not believe in Jesus. On a regular basis, I felt isolated and different.

When U.S. presidents call for a National Prayer Day, they are essentially endorsing the idea that it is okay for public institutions to endorse religion. The National Prayer Day does not specify that the prayer should be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Buddhist. In progressive areas, it’s likely that leaders of various religions unite to say a joint prayer. But in some parts of our country, the day may be used as an excuse to promote only one particular religion. People are entitled to not believe in God. People are entitled to not believe in prayer. I do, by the way, enjoy prayer. That’s not the point. We should all try to promote understanding and respect of all religions.

[On another note, for an eloquent piece on the constitutional issues, check out this piece on today’s Huffington Post.]

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