A few days ago I joined hundreds of worshipers at the courthouse in San Antonio who were observing the National Day of Prayer. From the courthouse door, fervent prayers and holy praise filled the air of the the lawn below where hundreds shouted, sang, waved their arms in the air and wept. I stood below and to side of the entrance holding my handmade sign where it could not be missed by anyone watching the observance. It read "Keep Government and Religion Separate".
The sign is one that I made last year for the same event. At the time I considered whether I should keep it. After all, the National Day of Prayer had just been declared unconstitutional by a federal court. The Mayor could go ahead and read his 2010 proclamation, but that would be the last. I decided to keep it, so it was still tucked away in my closet when I found out a few weeks ago that a federal court had overturned the ruling and that this year's National Day of Prayer was a go.
To be clear, I had no intent to protest the scene I've just described. Preaching and expressions of faith, even on the courthouse steps, is protected by the same amendment that protects the public from religious laws. (Other protesters take note!) I was there to remind people, and city officials that government proclamations of a religious nature are unconstitutional and otherwise generally a bad idea.
After reading both decisions, [Judge Barbara Crabb's here, Seventh Circuit's here] a couple of things are clear to me. One, the law requiring the proclamation is unconstitutional. And two, the seventh circuit made a cowardly decision to sidestep the issue.
It's a curious situation that the government can, in principle and in fact, carry out unconstitutional actions without conequence under a system that requires that personal harm to the plaintifs be demonstrated. It doesn't seem to offer remedies for the more 'big picture' societal harm that mixing religion and government can cause.
The Seventh Circuit said they can't understand why anyone would be offended by the proclamation. It reminded me of an interview I gave atlast year's National Day of Prayer event. The Christion radio announcer asked me, mockingly "Oh, are you buuurrdened by this? Do you feel buuurrdened?". "No." I told him. "I'm just here to remind people that we have separation of church and state in this country." So my sign sits in my closet, waiting for another day.