The Latest Church/State Culture War: National Day of Prayer

Sunday, May 2, 2010 - 11:06 am

The Latest Church/State Culture War: National Day of Prayer

National Day of Prayer sign in Washington DC
Biblical quotes displayed in Washington, DC for the 2006 National Day of Prayer.
(photo: Street Protest TV/Flickr)

The latest culture war over the constitutionality of the National Day of Prayer reminds me of Krista’s conversation with Steve Waldman in our program “Liberating the Founders.” In this pre-Obama election interview, when asked what he wanted the next president to understand about our historical context for the balancing act between church and state, Waldman replied:

“I would love it if the next president understood that someone’s view on separation of church and state does not necessarily describe their personal faith. What I mean by that is that we’ve come to think that if you support separation of church and state, you must be secular. Or that if you oppose separation of church and state, that means you’re more religious. And from the founders’ perspective, that was a very odd notion. That would be viewed as a complete non sequitur.”

Later on in the interview, Waldman concludes:

“… So I end up with a position that I guess is a little bit idiosyncratic, which is that a lot of this stuff ought to be allowed, but that we shouldn’t be fighting about it so much and that we should be really placing less importance on whether or not religion is invoked in the public square.”

Ms. Tippett: And what should we be placing importance on?
Mr. Waldman: We should be placing importance on living a good life according to the dictates of our faith. The founders would say that’s the most important determinant of religious success — is whether or not religion makes you a good person. And for the most part, despite the fact that we have all these debates over the war on Christmas and there’s lawsuits and there’s, you know, fights on TV. You know, for most Americans, the question of the strength of their faith is not actually determined by Bill O’Reilly or the ACLU. It’s determined by whether they treat their neighbors well and whether their prayers are heart felt and whether they lead a good life and follow the dictates of their faith.

What do you think? What weight do you give this issue in current American culture and politics?

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is the cofounder of On Being and currently serves as chief content officer and executive editor. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on “The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi” and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent’s reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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