Over at the Heritage Foundation’s blog, The Daily Signal, I have a piece arguing that the longstanding tradition of presidential proclamations of thanksgiving challenges the contemporary theory that holds that there must be “strict separation of church and state.” Here is a key passage:
In his 1864 announcement Lincoln credited “Almighty God” with the preservation of America for another year and for the blessings it had enjoyed during that year. He then went on to “set apart” the last Thursday of November as a day that he asked “all” of his “fellow-citizens” to observe “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to Almighty God the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe.”
The president went on to “recommend” that his fellow citizens should “reverently humble themselves in the dust, and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of events for a return of the inestimable blessings of Peace, Union, and Harmony throughout the land.”
Here we have perhaps America’s greatest president—a man who for many almost embodies America and its aspiration to preserve and live by the Constitution—openly, ardently and officially encouraging his fellow Americans to pray to God—without, of course, presuming in any way to direct how or at what place of worship, if any, they would do so.
Someone, it would seem, has misunderstood the Constitution. Either the Great Emancipator or today’s proponents of strict separation have an incorrect interpretation of the First Amendment.
I also dealt with this question–with greater attention to the details of the constitutional law cases–in a piece I wrote for Public Discourse last year.